Cowichan’s Maple Syrup Festival sweetens pot to two days

The Bigleaf Maple Syrup Festival – always a crowd pleaser with all ages of Valley residents – is back at the BC Forest Discovery Centre.

And it’s bigger than ever. Under the auspices of the maple syrup producers who call themselves the Vancouver Island Sapsuckers, visitors can enjoy the eighth annual celebration of bigleaf maple syrup on Saturday, Feb. 7 and again on Sunday, Feb. 8 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. This event is always focused on the unique flavour of west coast maple syrup.

The festival kicks off 2015 for the Centre, after 2014 brought the most successful attendance numbers in 20 years.

Many folks still don’t know that our Island’s bigleaf maple trees can be tapped. But the festival is the place to learn.

Visitors can explore the many facets of maple sugaring in a fun atmosphere with live entertainment and the aroma of hot syrup rising in a steamy cloud from the evaporator.

Tree-tapping demos, syrup tasting and mini-workshops are scheduled throughout the day.

And, if, once you see how easy it is to tap a tree, you want to buy a starter kit, you can check out the tapping supplies available.

Visitors always leave the event with surprising knowledge about how sap tapped from local bigleaf maples can be turned into delicious syrup that rivals the flavor of any produced in the eastern provinces.

And, of course, the tasting tables are a big draw for everyone. This event is just about the only place you can purchase bigleaf maple syrup.

In addition to the two-day celebration of all things maple syrup, the Centre will also be open on Family Day, Monday, Feb. 9. Chris Gale, the Forest Discovery Centre’s general manager, said he wanted to make it clear to everyone that Monday at the centre is Family Day. The official maple syrup festival covers Saturday and Sunday only.

"Monday is not a continuation of the maple syrup festival. The festival used to be a one-day event, then we decided to expand it to two days and the advertising was all ready to go.

"Then I discovered that Monday is a statutory holiday and we have to be open that day. So, we are still going to have a few things maple syrup around on the Monday. We’ll have the evaporator going so the smell’s there and have some of the things down the pathways for demonstrations but on Monday we’re not going to be doing all the courses and things.

"We still will have the vendors here all weekend though. We’ve got 11-12 of them coming."

Specials for Family Day include kids’ crafts, train rides, entertainment and the Centre itself.

"That’s the main thing," Gale said.

The maple syrup festival is a big draw at the Forest Discovery Centre and Gale is delighted to see interest in the Centre itself growing.

"Our figures for last year are the best in 20 years," he said. "We’re expecting a really good maple syrup festival, too. This is a very good year for production of maple syrup. Last year was a poor year so there wasn’t really that much available but they expect to have a lot more available this year."

And, Gale said, there’s great news for motorists.

"Our parking lot out front is under construction now but it will be ready for the festival. It won’t be finished but it will be ready to use. It’s being repaved and completely redone."

The entry and exit have both been redone.

"You know how you come in and that serves as an exit and entrance? Well, now it’s just going to be the entrance. The exit will be back through the forest with a bit of parking back in the forest, not a whole bunch but space for about 30 cars. It’s a really big deal. This has been in the planning stages for about three years and they’re finally getting it done now."

Gale also pointed out a shuttle will run between the Rona parking lot at Cowichan Commons and the Centre as well.

"It will be running as needed over all three days," he said.

For train lovers, the Green Hornet diesel train will be running all three days departing from the station each half hour between 10:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Admission is $8 for adults, seniors and youths with children two to 12 getting in for $6 and babes in arms under two years old admitted free.