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EASTERN

Students Tap Into Winter's Sweet Tooth

STORRS -- On the edge of a forest near the University of campus, there is an unexpected, almost eerie sight.

Light blue tubing is strung like a crazy clothesline about 5 feet from the ground connecting one tree to another to another.

The tubes are hooked up to a stand of 60 maple trees, the handiwork of a group of students in UConn's Forestry and Wildlife Club who have been making maple syrup at the university for the past two months.

Besides setting up the gravity-fed tubing, which siphons the sap into a central line and dumps it into a small tank, the students have purchased a wooden sugarhouse where they have been boiling the syrup on campus.

This year, they produced 7 gallons of syrup. It may not sound like much, but it takes 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup. The students have been bottling the syrup as they make it and eventually hope to make enough to sell to the public.

"Every time it spills out when we pour a bottle, I taste a little of it and it tastes great," said Geoff Picard, 21, of Killingworth.

Picard, with Fred Scoville, 22, of West Cornwall, and Ed Belinsky, 21, of Oxford, restarted the forestry and wildlife club last year after a hiatus of several years and began the maple syrup project.

The club, which has grown to 20 students, started out using traditional metal buckets to collect the sap and a small homemade evaporator to cook it. Last winter, they produced 3 gallons of syrup.

This year, the club requested money from the student government and the university's natural resources department to run a better operation and succeeded in getting $12,000. They bought a rustic 10- by 20-foot sugarhouse that was shipped fully assembled from Vermont as well as the plastic tubing and a new, larger evaporator, Picard said.

The group opens the sugarhouse, situated off Horsebarn Hill Road across from the Polo Arena, to the public when it is doing a boil, generally on Sundays. One Sunday this winter the boil attracted 75 visitors, Picard said. The club is now finishing up the season, but intends to do it again next winter.

In addition to the maple syrup project, the club also has bees and makes apple cider in the fall. In the spring, they keep busy maintaining boxes for wood ducks to nest in along ponds in the region.

 
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