A chilly, but (mostly) snow-free Maple Fest

By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Hebron - posted Mon., Mar. 18, 2013
Riley enjoys some maple cotton candy at the Hebron Maple Fest on March 16. Photos by Melanie Savage.
Riley enjoys some maple cotton candy at the Hebron Maple Fest on March 16. Photos by Melanie Savage.

What a difference a week makes. On March 9, the Hebron town center was blanketed in nearly a foot of snow, prompting the postponement of the town’s annual Maple Festival. But by March 16, after a week characterized by temperatures often reaching well into the 50s, the center of town was mostly green and open for business. There were still patches of snow left, but participants were able to work around them.

The Connecticut Valley Siberian Husky Club, offering periodic demonstrations of sled-pulling from Veterans’ Memorial Park, offered a case in point. “It’s been a challenge, because we have a mix of clear ground and snow,” said club member Suzie McDougall. The group couldn’t use a sled with runners, because much of the area surrounding their booth was devoid of snow, so it used a sled with wheels. “But there’s a lot of snow back there in the woods,” said McDougall. After finding that two dogs couldn’t pull the wheeled sled through several inches of soft snow, the group simply adapted the run route. “We’re having them go in a ways and turn around,” said McDougall.

The Winding Brook Sugar House faced a different kind of weather-related challenge. Because it was so cold the weekend of the festival, sap wasn’t flowing particularly well. “You need cold nights and warm days for the sap to flow well,” said owner Wayne Palmer. But fortunately, the season overall has been quite good for the syrup industry, and Palmer had plenty of sap to keep him occupied despite the temporary slowdown. On March 16, the fire was roaring under his boiler, and his sugar house was filled with the delicious aroma of warm maple sap.

Palmer said he has approximately 538 trees currently on a vacuum system, with plans to expand to 700, plus an additional two vacuum sites, next year. He also currently taps an additional 1,000 trees under a bucket system.

“How long have you been in the syrup business?” asked an inquisitive young visitor.

“My family’s been doing it for about 100 years,” said Palmer, adding that his family hails from northern Maine.

“But how long have you been doing it?” pressed the boy.

“I’ve been doing this for about 20 years,” said Palmer.

Near the Lobo Insurance Agency, on March 17, a group of confirmation students from Hebron’s Church of the Holy Family struggled to stay warm against the increasingly chilly temperatures. A helpful visitor offered them hand warmers for their gloves. The students, all RHAM freshmen, were selling brownies with some adult members of their church.

For the past 10 years, members of Brian Lessard’s confirmation class have sold brownies to help support the Holy Family Home and Shelter in Willimantic (no affiliation with the church, despite the similar names). This year, each of the 14 members of the class baked and sliced a total of eight trays of brownies to sell at the Maple Festival. “This sale helps them out and it helps us out, too,” said RHAM freshman Emily, explaining that the sale helps the students fulfill a community service requirement associated with their confirmation. Traditionally, the sale results in more than $1,000 being donated to the shelter.

The Holy Family Shelter is a non-profit “28-bed home and shelter for mothers and children, who meet certain criteria,” according to the organization’s website. “Residents, who stay an average of 60 - 90 days, are provided with three meals a day, life skills workshops, case management, laundry facilities, an education program for children, assistance with permanent housing and employment searches and referrals to other agencies as needed,” reads the site.

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