Somerset County is Pennsylvania’s largest producer of maple products. In order to produce maple sugar, there needs to be an abundance of maple trees paired with the perfect climate. Because of the cold nights and warm days, spring weather in the Laurel Highlands is the ideal time to tap trees! The alternating weather cycle, from freezing to thawing, is what changes the atmospheric pressure in the trees to allow sap to flow out of them to begin the maple production process.
The first documented maple sugar production in Somerset County was in 1762. Back then, buckets were hung on tapped maple trees to collect sap and then manually gathered to start the labor-intensive work of converting forty gallons of sap into delicious maple goodness. Many sugar camps in the region have always been family-owned businesses, passed down through multiple generations, making our maple heritage a tradition in the Laurel Highlands. Today, our maple producers use cutting-edge technology to make the gathering and production process easier (and tastier) than ever!
So how does it work? Trees are tapped by drilling a hole for a spile, a tool that resembles a spout. Spiles were originally made of wood, eventually metal and now plastic. The sap drips from the spile and into a keeler, a bucket that hangs from a hook on the spile. “Keeler” is a term specific to Somerset County, influenced by its early German settlers. Today, the sap flows from the spile, through plastic tubing and is deposited in a large tank. Many years ago, farmers would have traveled through the woods, stopping at every tree and manually dumping each keeler into a large tank.
With maple production primarily limited to a handful of states located in New England, Somerset County stands out and takes great pride in its maple production.
The Maple Weekend Taste and Tour is a free annual event held March 14-15, 2020, that highlights participating Somerset County maple camps' hard work and the sweet treats they create! Tour multiple maple camps throughout the weekend to see the process of maple syrup production first-hand and sample all of the tasty maple treats you can handle. Each stop on the tour has something fun to try or do: grab a Tall Pines Distillery Maple Rye Moonshine at Milroy Farms, take a wagon ride at Brantview Farms Maple and take home a bottle of Bourbon Barrel Aged Maple Syrup at Black Bear Maple Camp.
Please note: The special events planned at Somerset Historical Center for Maple Weekend Taste and Tour 2020 have been cancelled.
We are sad to inform visitors that the 73rd Annual Pennsylvania Maple Festival is cancelled for this year, but the beloved tradition will continue in 2021.
Schedule a visit to a maple camp during your next visit to get a behind-the-scenes experience and sample tasty maple treats!