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The mission of Great Mountain Forest is to be a leader in forest stewardship. We practice sustainable forest management, promote biodiversity and resilience to climate change, support education and research, and welcome all who love the woods.

Great Mountain Forest 

March 2023

The Maple Syrup Issue:

A First in Connecticut!

The Science of Sap

Old Sugarhouse

GMF First in Connecticut to be Recognized as a Bird-Friendly Maple Syrup Producer

A “sugarbush” is a stand of trees with a high percentage of maple trees used for the production of syrup. These same forests also provide nesting habitat to some of the greatest diversity of bird species in North America, including those that migrate thousands of miles to these forests. GMF has been producing maple syrup for 77 years, and this past year, Director of Programs and Operations Matt Gallagher worked with Audubon Connecticut’s Bird-Friendly Maple program to conduct an inventory assessment that demonstrated that GMF forest stewardship would support the necessary activities:

  • Maintain a diversity of tree species (more than just maple) in the sugarbush.
  • Keep standing dead trees and live trees with cavities (the bigger, the better)
  • Provide layers of vegetation, from small seedlings on the forest floor to saplings and shrubs, to the canopy overhead
  • Leave logs and branches on the forest floor.    


Naming Great Mountain Forest Connecticut’s first officially recognized Bird Friendly Maple producer, Rosa Goldman, Audubon Forest Program Associate, and Bird-friendly Maple project lead, said,


 “Keeping our sugarbushes healthy is especially important in the face of a changing climate. Warmer temperatures, changes in soil characteristics, and the shortening and unpredictability of freeze-thaw cycles will impact maple trees, syrup production, and the habitat which birds and other wildlife need to thrive.”


For more, see the Audubon Connecticut announcement at Great Mountain Forest First-Ever Officially Recognized Bird-Friendly Maple Syrup Producer in Connecticut | Audubon Connecticut 


Look for the bird sticker on this year’s GMF syrup, available at the Forestry Office and the new Administrative Office at 10 Station Place in Norfolk (the old railroad station). Please call ahead to arrange pick-up in the village at 860-824-8188.   


The Science of Sap

Maple syrup production starts with collecting early spring sap, which is 2-3% sucrose, from the sugar maple (Acer saccharum). A tree's xylem, or sapwood, constitutes the interior conduit system that carries stored nutrients upwards for new growth. At the same time, the phloem just under the bark returns photosynthesized starches to parenchyma cells for storage. Compared to softwood conifers, the later-appearing hardwoods evolved the bonus component in the xylem of “vessel elements” for more efficient movement of fluids.


In most hardwoods, the fibers surrounding the vessel elements are filled with water, but maples are unique in that these fibers are instead filled with air. Gas volume changes with both temperature and pressure, introducing a fiber-vessel pressure exchange from freeze-thaw cycles and atmospheric pressure changes. Sap in maples rises during warm days from thermal expansion and is drawn back down during cold nights, and tapping a sugar maple’s xylem intercepts a portion of this cycling flow. The sap drawn off can be boiled down to syrup with a sugar concentration of at least 66%, which explains why it takes 30 or 40 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of syrup.  


Hundreds of scientific papers have been published on the subject of sap exudation because of the economic importance of the maple syrup industry and maple’s high value as a timber tree. Recent changes in weather patterns are driving the desire for an even better understanding of local weather on sap flow, and Great Mountain Forest has local weather and sapping data for the past seventy years available for the use of researchers.  

Old Sugarhouse

Rain rotten, wind twisted,

the mossy swayback roof

at last crushed by snow,

the old sugarhouse lies victim

to the storms and strain

that grow a good sugarbush.


Sap once boiled golden

in this sauna of woodfire and vapor

where visitors shared stories

rising on steam like prayers,

knowing sugaring is done

in the sweetness of time.


Cycling season-to-season, sap

to syrup, buckets to tubing,

old maples to firewood,

there’s chatter under new roofs,

drudgery is joy, and sugarmakers

are ever aboil for a better year.     


-         David Leff


Weather...or not

GMF is a reporting station for the National Weather Service; any news outlet's “staff meteorologist” uses data collected and submitted daily by Russell Russ. His monthly weather summaries and various weather facts and figures are available on our website. Click on the link below to visit our weather page!

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Forest Notices

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  • Keep your dog on a leash and if you pack it in--pack it out.

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