This year marks the 40th anniversary of Indian Creek Nature Center’s Maple Syrup Festival. What an incredible — and delicious — milestone! From tapping just a few trees, to now gathering upwards of 1,800 gallons of sap this season, the annual Maple Syrup Festival has grown into a celebrated community event that combines environmental education with a tasty tradition. You just can’t beat real maple syrup! As one way to celebrate our 40th festival, we contacted former director Rich Patterson and the group of board members who launched the first Maple Syrup Festival in 1984 and asked for their thoughts about this perennial favorite Nature Center event.
Rich Patterson, ICNC’s director from 1978-2013: “I was looking for a major event that was compatible with our mission. My wife’s (Marion’s) family had been syruping for decades in New Hampshire and conversations with my father-in-law Les Fellows helped us do our first syruping programs in 1979. We tapped a couple of trees and cooked sap on a Coleman stove in the yard. Lots of people arrived and it grew each year. Marion and I then attended the Wisconsin Maple Festival in Aniwa, Wisconsin and secured the help of Juan Reynolds, owner of Reynolds Sugar Bush. Juan and his brother Lynn Reynolds came to the Nature Center in about 1981 and led a “maple institute” that was well attended.
“To create the first syrup festival in 1984 I enlisted four board members to help: Maud Moore, Bob Vancura, Ken DeKock, and Dave Kubicek. Les and Yvonne Fellows came from New Hampshire, and Les was our first sugarmaker. Bob had a big, stainless steel pan made that we propped up on bricks and built a fire underneath. It was on the back lawn. About 450 people attended that first event, which was successful. After two years of running the Festival for one day we expanded to a weekend, always the first full weekend of March. (Now later in the month.) We built the Sugarhouse in the 1986-’87 winter; the first time it was used was for the 1987 Festival.”
(1) This year’s Maple Syrup Festival will be ICNC’s 40th. As a participant in launching the event in 1984, how does it make you feel to witness its enduring success?
Ken DeKock: I’m proud to have played a small part in starting something that has stood the test of time. So many events of this kind begin and end very quickly – because it’s no longer “new and exciting,” or because the core of people that started it moved on, or because the organization lacks the leadership needed to sustain an event that requires a great deal of time and effort. It is a testament to Rich Patterson, John Myers, hundreds of volunteers and thousands of friends of the Nature Center that the Maple Syrup Festival endures.
Dave Kubicek: I am proud to have been a part of the ICNC and the Maple Syrup Festival during the formative years of both.
(2) Why do you think the Festival continues to be successful?
Ken DeKock: It’s unique. It’s a fun, affordable and educational family event that can be enjoyed by anyone — not just a targeted group. And it gets people outdoors, just at the right time of year when families are tired of being indoors.
Dave Kubicek: Good food and entertainment, educational opportunities and a wonderful location have all played a part in the success of the Festival.
(3) What stands out in your mind from the origins of the event in 1984?
Ken DeKock: The Nature Center had been hosting the very successful Haunted Halloween Hikes. Rich was concerned that, even though it was successful, it was a tremendous amount of work and didn’t fit well with the Nature Center’s mission. As treasurer, I was terrified at the thought of abandoning a very profitable event for a very young organization still struggling to pay its bills. But Rich’s confidence quickly won me over. We had a great committee — Bob, Maud and Dave all brought a lot of fun and energy to the effort. I remember breathing a huge sigh of relief when Quaker Oats agreed to donate the pancake mix and syrup!
Maud Moore: I recall asking for a donation from HomeTown Dairies, which supplied dairy products for the first Festival.
Dave Kubicek: I have forgotten most details of our first Festival forty years ago, primarily because the crucial details of the successful event were handled primarily by Maud, Bob, Ken and others — including Rich, of course.
Maud Moore: The Festival wasn’t that big of a deal at the time. We thought having a Festival would bring people to the Nature Center.
Ken DeKock: What I remember most vividly was the sense of panic we felt trying to feed 450 people when we really had no idea if anyone would show up!