Student fun in Hopkins Forest on Sap to Syrup Day

Despite cold temperatures and a mixture between rain and sleet, students and Williamstown community members ventured to Hopkins Memorial Forest Saturday for the annual Sap to Syrup Day. The event brought the new forest manager Drew Jones into the limelight.

Although the weather was not well-suited for the event, it did not prevent over 100 people from going to the forest to learn about the maple syrup-making process. The event attracted a range of people from those who had never seen the boiling down of sap to people who were nostalgic for their childhood. One community member reflected on the times when her father made syrup for their extended family during her childhood.

The celebration of an old New England tradition brought many Williams students out to the events as well. Bethie Miller ’03 loved the whole process. “It’s amazing to see the sap go from something out of a tree to something so yummy!” she said.

The event followed the process of sugar making. It started with a lesson on how to tap trees and how sap is collected. From there, the tour moved to the sugar shack where the sap was boiled down. After that, the boiled-down sap was taken to the finishing station, where the final consistency was perfected. Finally, the syrup was filtered and bottled.

Volunteers, mostly Williams students, worked the Hopkins sugar shack. The forest group taps about 130 sugar maples to make their syrup. Each tree, according to one student volunteer, produces about 10 to 15 gallons per season. According to volunteers, it takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. That day, the shack had boiled down enough sap to make two gallons of syrup, Jones noted.

Jones, who took over in August from Carl Phelps, was hired to transform the job from a part-time caretaker role into a full-time position. The move to create a full-time position was based on an attempt to further promote the use of Hopkins Forest for teaching and research purposes, Jones said.

The role that Jones has stepped into goes beyond the simple managing of the forest that his predecessors had done. His new role not only includes caretaking duties, trail and general maintenance, grounds keeping, and other duties associated with forest maintenance, but also to bring the forest to the Williams and greater community. There had been a lull in the use and the understanding of its value, he added.

“Letting the campus know about the resource” was Jones’ main goal for the program. There are simply too many students who don’t know about the wealth of information that is available to them in the forest, Jones said.

Beyond just promoting the forest, Jones wants to further its role as a resource for research and teaching. A few classes currently use the forest to learn about ecology, geology and chemistry, but Jones wants to expand the use of the site. He wants to make the forest an “integrated research and teaching facility.”

He is also looking to create a public outreach program. One idea he had was to create monthly natural history lessons. Possibilities he cited were bird walks and wildflower walks among others. The forest used to offer these types of programs, but they had not occurred for some years, Jones added.

However, he stressed, that while expanding public outreach is important, the main goal of the forest is to be a research and teaching facility. He is unwilling to expand outreach to the point where it affects the ability of the site to serve its educational purpose to the college.

The current use of the forest for non-educational purposes consists of trail hiking, jogging and other recreational activities. Expanding this function, too, might be hazardous to the health and research capabilities of the forest, he explained.

Jones is excited about expanding the forest’s educational potential. He has plans to open Hopkins Memorial Forest up to more educational purposes; he hopes to expand its use to beyond the normal science classes. Drew Jones can be reached at the Center for Environmental Studies, x4353.

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