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Slow start to LORDA syrup production

Jim Crawford places a tap in a maple tree at Lansdowne Outdoor Recreational Development Association park.
Jim Crawford places a tap in a maple tree at Lansdowne Outdoor Recreational Development Association park.

LANSDOWNE – Jim Crawford holds out a cup filled with a clear liquid. It doesn’t look like much – in fact it just looks like water.

But once it’s processed, the liquid – sap collected from the maple trees at the Lansdowne Outdoor Recreational Development Association park – will be turned into a valuable commodity that helps pay to operate the park for seniors and people with disabilities.

When it comes out of the trees, the sap contains about four per cent sugar, and it’s boiled until it turns amber and reaches a sugar content of 66 per cent.

Once enough sap is collected from the 450 taps on the property, it will be placed in an evaporator to create the syrup. “We need at least 200 gallons to get started,” said Crawford, the park’s curator.

Crawford’s son Prosper helps with collecting the sap from the buckets and the barrels that the lines empty into. Then volunteers work in an assembly line to filter and bottle it.

However, this year conditions haven’t been right to cause sufficient sap to run. “The weather is not co-operating,” he said.

Cold nighttime temperatures below freezing, followed by daily temperatures above freezing cause the sap to flow, and not enough of those days have yet happened.

Selling the pure maple syrup has become one of the main fundraisers for LORDA, which doesn't charge for seniors and people with disabilities to use the facilities, operating through donations and fundraising.

The park offers 15 sites for dry camping, fishing in one of its four ponds, nature trails, flower gardens, and a picnic area that are all accessible. Fishing is reserved for people with mental and physical challenges and seniors, but the general public is welcome to visit the park to enjoy the rest of the facilities.

It costs about $80,000 each year to operate the park, which includes paying for insurance, fuel, electricity and telephone services and maintenance, said LORDA founder Dave Leese.

LORDA has about 15,000 to 16,000 visits per year, which includes campers and people who come to fish every week.

Volunteers began making maple syrup there about 20 years ago “in a little tiny shack.”

Leese said with the large number of maple trees on the park’s 300 acres, it seemed like a good idea. The tiny steel building contained a small evaporator, and Leese said it wasn’t a fun job. “It was like torture. It was either boiling hot in the little building or we froze to death.”

The maple syrup operation has since expanded into a larger building, built with funds from ACOA, and a large evaporator and other equipment was purchased with a New Horizons for Seniors grant from the federal government.

When maple syrup production isn’t underway, the building is used as a woodworking shop to make trivets, bird feeders and birdhouses. LORDA volunteers also make bullet pens, pill bottles, back scratchers and letter openers, all of which are sold to raise funds for the park.

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