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Fort Drum uses maple syrup production to educate

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FORT DRUM — The production of maple syrup on post forestland is being used to teach soldiers and their families about Northern New York and its assets.

Many who have come here from outside the region find the taste of fresh maple syrup much different from the store products they’ve purchased elsewhere.

“People are amazed,” said Rodger H. Voss, a forester with the forest management program, part of Fort Drum’s Department of Public Works. “They try it and they’re like, ‘Wow, this isn’t Aunt Jemima ... this is different.’”

Mr. Voss believes the post is the only installation in the country to have such a maple syrup-producing operation.

Begun in 2006, the operation pays for itself through syrup sales at the post’s gift shop along with money generated by other regular forestry activities such as logging, avoiding the need for taxpayer money.

In the woods near the post’s headquarters on 10th Mountain Division Drive, sap from hundreds of sugar maple trees runs to a single collection tank through a long, intricate series of clear plastic tubes. After being collected, the sap is turned into syrup at a forestry building on the post’s south side.

The vacuum pump system, similar to ones used by syrup producers around the region, was installed last year, replacing the buckets placed at each tap that required many more man-hours to maintain. The system will be usable for about 15 years before it will have to be changed.

Mr. Voss and Michael R. Stiefel, a civilian forestry employee whose salary is generated by post forestry work revenues, said when they were youths they collected small amounts of sap to make syrup.

“It’s a different level, that’s for sure,” Mr. Stiefel said.

With the watery sap consisting of about 2.5 percent sugar, it takes the evaporation of about 42 gallons to create a single gallon of syrup at 66 percent sugar.

Mr. Voss said the post produces about 200 gallons of syrup per season, with much of it distributed as free samples during educational events. The approximately $6,000 in annual syrup sales covers the cost of buying supplies such as new filters and repairs.

Mr. Voss said the main syrup-producing season runs from the end of February until mid-April.

Since drawing about 25 people during its first Maple Days event, the post has experienced a steady increase in interest each year. Mr. Voss said last year’s event attracted about 950 visitors.

The post will hold its 2013 Maple Days event from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. March 16 and 23 at 45th Infantry Drive. In addition to learning about production and receiving syrup samples, visitors can buy bottles of syrup and gather information about other area syrup producers.

Those with questions about the event can call the post’s Forest Management Program at 772-3170 or 772-6767.

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