Laurel Fork Sapsuckers Are Newest Sugar Camp On Maple Festival Tour
Visitors to the Highland County Maple festival have the opportunity to visit working sugar camps, to see firsthand how this coveted commodity is produced. The newest camp added to public availability is Laurel Fork Sapsuckers, located on Ronnie Moyers’ farm at the top of Allegheny Mountain on the western side of the county. In operation for six years, the camp may be remote compared to some of the others, but it offers unique experiences for visitors to see old fashioned methods of production, as well as interactive activities. Missy Moyers-Jarrells, the family designated spokesperson, explained more.
“ My grandparents, first of all, they made maple syrup on this property long before I was ever born here, and we still had some of their old equipment. We had the buckets and the old spiles, so one year, we just decided, you know what, let’s give this a try, let’s see if we can’t make a gallon of syrup for ourselves, and we did. And we had friends and family come by and talk and reminisce, and we thought this is such a great idea. So we decided, this is really nice, let’s just continue with this and see where it will go. And then we decided, well let’s do the Maple Festival, and we didn’t realize quite how quickly that would grow. But we do still enjoy when people come by, and they come to the house, and they go “oh, they’re not here, we know where they’re at, they’re down at the sugar camp. And they stay for a couple hours, visit, help throw wood in the furnace – it’s just like a good family community thingthat we’ve experienced, and we really love it.
“We made syrup the first year on open pans, out in the middle of the woods – we endured the rain while we were making it, we endured snowstorms while we were making it, and that put a stop to that. We decided, okay, we’re going to have a sugar camp. So we built the sugar camp from the hemlock trees that were dying on the property. We used as much local craftsmanship in that sugar camp as we possibly could, and we built that. And then we decided, well, we’ve got this nice sugar camp, let’s just open up for the Maple Festival.
“We have 870 taps out now, which is a record for us. Each year, we try and add a little bit more. We operate off of two flat pans over a wood fired furnace, and then we have a small evaporator. Up until this year, we only managed to produce 60-65 gallons of syrup each year, so that’s about where we’re at. This year, we’re hoping to exceed that – we’ve done extra prep work in our sugar camp, got things laid out a little better, and we’re pushing for that 100 mark, but this year’s season is a little bit different than most, so we may not make that.
“it would be great to keep getting bigger, however, the personnel within the Laurel Fork Sapsucker family can no longer handle anymore. The team consists of my parents, Ronnie and Sandy Moyers, who own the farm here. And then there’s myself, and my husband, my children Mason, who is seven, and Marley, who is four, and then we have my sister Susie Newlon and her daughter Hannah Newlon who is helping us. And our equipment will not handle much more – we just don’t have the equipment that’s going to produce 300 gallons of syrup a year.
“One of the things that we like to do at the sugar camp is keep it a teaching camp, so both Saturdays of the Maple Festival, at 11:00 am, we offer a tree tapping and guided tour of our sugar camp . So we will take you through the process of the maple tree, and then we go out and we actually tap trees, and then you’re going to end your tour down at the sugar camp, where they’re going to explain to you exactly what you’re seeing, evaporation in the pans, and any questions you may have – then, at that point, you will get to taste some of that syrup, coming right out of the pans. So you’re going to go from the tree, all the way down to the spoon, and enjoy at least an hour long tour of our sugar camp.”