Jim Harper/Wikimedia Commons

The Cayuga Nature Center and Paleontological Research Institution are co-hosting a series of live and prerecorded virtual programs for Maple Week.

March 23, 2021

A Sweet Surprise: Maple Week Returns to Ithaca

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After a year-long hiatus, Ithaca’s Maple Week will be streaming live, offering a glimpse into the maple industry that goes beyond the maple syrup drizzled onto pancakes. 

From March 22 to March 28, the Cayuga Nature Center and the Paleontological Research Institution will co-host a series of live and prerecorded virtual programs and activities to celebrate syrup from the sugar maple tree. Throughout the week, participants can learn about tapping maple trees and even get a look into the process of making maple syrup. 

Previously called Maple Fest, the event used to draw hundreds of visitors to the Cayuga Nature Center for pancakes, animal encounters and maple sugaring tours. The pandemic canceled last year’s event, and rather than going another year without maple, event organizers made Maple Week virtual. 

With over 2,000 maple sugarmakers in New York State, maple products are a major industry. New York boasts the largest resource of tappable maple trees in the country. In just the past five years, the state’s maple syrup production has increased by about 50 percent due to growing demand for the product. 

Despite its pandemic era redesign, Maple Week maintains the original mission of the event, which is to both engage and educate its participants. In line with the event’s dedication to educational programming, the week will kick off with a Zoom discussion about maple and climate change.

Although participants will not have the same hands-on experiences that past Maple Fests offered — such as a look into the maple syrup making process — the event organizers hope to make the experience as fulfilling as possible. 

“We’re going to be doing a lot of different events throughout the week to try to make people feel like they can still see the same processes and have the same experiences they would have had if it were in person,” said Maya Rodgers, marketing manager for the Paleontological Research Institution, an affiliate of the Cayuga Nature Center that aims to educate the community about the life and history of the earth. “With the event being virtual, I think we can show even more behind the scenes views to participants.”

Rodgers also hopes that the virtual format will allow Maple Week events to reach a broader audience. 

“The nice part about this being virtual this year is we might be able to reach people that normally couldn’t come to Ithaca,” Rodgers said. “We may even be able to reach people that aren’t even in New York State.”

The virus has shifted the format of Maple Week — but it has also affected the broader maple industry. According to Aaron Wightman, a maple expert and co-director of the Cornell Maple Program, the pandemic has had surprising impacts on New York’s maple industry. The Cornell Maple Program is geared toward improving the production and use of the local product by engaging producers, consumers and others with interests in maple. 

According to Wightman, maple producers were originally concerned about decreasing profits due to the pandemic, but this fear turned out to be largely unfounded.

“As it turns out, sales have actually increased for most maple producers given [that] more people are eating at home and trying new recipes,” Wightman wrote in a press release

In addition to the virtual programs launched through the event’s webpage, Maple Week will also be using the nature center’s Instagram page for a series of live videos and prerecorded reels. 

The nature center will give viewers live footage into  the maple-making process, whether boiling the sap or filtering the syrup. One of the Instagram reels will even feature recipes for maple-inspired cocktails. 

Beyond celebrating the maple tree, Maple Week 2021 also aims to respark public awareness about and interest in the Cayuga Nature Center. The center has been closed since the start of the pandemic. 

“I’m really hoping that we can reach families and other individuals in Ithaca,” Rodgers said. “We’re really hoping to welcome people back this summer, and I’m hoping that this kind of gets the nature center back on people’s radar after being closed for so long.”

Even though this year’s virtual Maple Week will not include some of its most beloved traditions, such as the group pancake breakfast and in-person tours of the sugar bush, the community remains at the core of the event. 

“I think it’s really cool that we’re able to provide this program,” Rodgers said. “Being able to offer something, even if we know it won’t be like normal, will help substitute some of that feeling of togetherness that I think we’re all kind of missing right now.”