RAYMOND — There are 88 maple syrup farms on the Maine Maple Producers Association website, a number that represents a pretty robust industry, certainly one worthy of an annual celebration.
And the fourth Sunday of March does just that, with sugarhouses statewide opening barn doors for tours, a Sunday of sap lessons and lots of pancake eating. Because Maine Maple Sunday is about selling, pushing and celebrating Maine maple syrup.
That’s because many, if not all, of these maple syrup farmers produce syrup to supplement their incomes.
I get that.
But at the risk of angering 88 farms (or 86 as you’ll soon find out), does this annual feast have to be all about eating? In a state with such a vibrant tradition of outdoor recreation, could some of those traditional activities not be incorporated into this day?
Maybe the numbers would explain better what I’m driving at:
Of those 88 farms, the vast majority offer pancake breakfasts and as many as 36 offer free ice cream samples.
Meanwhile, only one offers cross country skiing; one recommends snowshoeing; and just one farm promises “outdoor activities.”
What’s wrong with this picture? Let’s look at the numbers again:
According to the Maine Center for Disease Control, 63 percent of Maine adults are overweight and 27 percent are obese; 15 percent of children in grades 9 to 12 are overweight and 12 percent are obese; and, sadly, among children ages 2 to 5, as many as 17 percent are overweight and 14 percent are obese.
I guess I just feel those numbers are too high to be pushing sugar, no matter how all-natural it may be.
On the other hand, what if those sugarhouses were located next to Nordic ski or snowshoe trails, or even ice skating rinks?
Just two farms among those 88 invite visitors to ski and snowshoe. And what they offer is just what the Maine outdoors is all about.
I know because I’ve traveled their land.
At Balsam Ridge Christmas Tree Farm in Raymond, where maple syrup is also produced, the snowmobile trails travel like a kid’s roller-coaster around the diminutive fir trees, and visiting Nordic skiers are welcome. The land here is quiet and the animals seem to know it. Ginger, the resident horse, comes out of her barn as if to greet visitors. And the birds enjoying the longer days seem to relish the 50 acres of open land.
Meanwhile, at Ducktrap Valley Maple Farm in Belmont, just north of Camden, the Ducktrap River Preserve runs alongside the farm, and there skiers and snowshoers are welcome to explore 1,135 acres, thanks to the Coastal Mountains Land Trust.
Richard Lenfest, owner of the farm, is glad for it.
“There are miles of hiking and skiing. And there is an abandoned road from the 1800s,” Lenfest said. “People should use it because it’s just sitting there. My facility is very limited. But people can ski here.”
Ducktrap Valley Maple Farm does not offer a pancake breakfast on Maine Maple Sunday while Balsam Ridge does. But the point here is both offer a way to exercise before enjoying some fresh maple syrup.
Certainly there could be other sugarhouses or maple syrup farms that border land trusts and preserves, or some that offer cross country skiing.
But then maybe they should say that.
And certainly this reporter is a huge fan of buttermilk pancakes – from way back. And I never eat pancakes – no matter what town, state or country I may be visiting – without real maple syrup.
But if we’re going to celebrate this wonderful natural resource, why not do so with a measure of outdoor activity?
Deirdre Fleming can be reached at 791-6452 or at: