Maple Education Program

Harley MacKenzie planted enough maple trees in the arboretum to create a “sugarbush” – an area where maple trees are tapped to collect the sap and produce maple syrup or sugar.

Each spring the MacKenzie Center welcomes students to our sugarbush to learn the process and history of making maple syrup in Wisconsin through our Maple Education Program. We invite the general public to participate during the annual MacKenzie Maple Syrup Festival on first Saturday of April. During maple season, we tap over 100 trees and reach over 1,200 students in the education program. We typically collect around 1000 gallons of sap and produce around 35-40 gallons of pure maple syrup.

A typical Maple Program starts with exploring the signs of spring and learning the basics of tree biology. Once students understand how to identify a healthy sugar maple tree, they are able to select a tree and tap it with their small group. After their buckets are hung, the group will travel back through time to learn different methods of processing sap, as some Native American tribes and Pioneers may have done. Finally, the groups will see how we process sap today at the MacKenzie Center to make what we call “MacKenzie Gold.” Lucky students will even get a taste!

How to schedule a school group for a Maple Education Program field trip

Contact MacKenzie Center education staff at 608-635-8112 or [email protected] to learn about the scheduling process.

How to volunteer for the Maple Education Program

The Maple Education Program and Maple Festival would not be possible without the many volunteers that contribute each year. In 2015, volunteers contributed nearly 2000 hours to the Maple Program teaching school groups, collecting sap, making the syrup and helping in other ways. No previous experience is necessary, as staff and past volunteers provide training and lesson plans. Training occurs in late February. Maple field trips occur twice a day, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays in March. Volunteers can sign up for just a few days or for the entire month of the education program. Volunteers can also sign up just for the Festival. If you want to get involved, contact the MacKenzie Center Education team at [email protected] or 608-635-8112 to sign up.

Descriptions of the volunteer positions for Maple

  • Maple Coordinators
    • Upper Maple Coordinator: (1 per fieldtrip) Coordinate guides and inform them as to where to tap trees. Greet the bus/teacher and welcome them to MacKenzie, organize school groups, collect payment, and other duties.
    • Lower Maple Coordinator: (1 per fieldtrip) Distribute interpretive materials and bins for each station. Prep station fires. Coordinate the rotation of groups through the interpretive stations, and other duties.
    • Collector Coordinator: (1 per fieldtrip) Coordinate sap collection team efforts once the sap flow has begun. Help facilitate training of collectors and other duties.
    • Cook Coordinator: (1 per fieldtrip) Coordinate cook team efforts at the evaporator. Help facilitate training for new cooks. Connect with Finisher Coordinator and other duties.
    • Finisher Coordinator: Coordinate finisher team efforts and schedules; lead finisher and other duties. Must be familiar with sanitary canning procedures. Available late afternoon (3-4pm).
  • Group Guides: (4-6 guides for each field trip) Group guides lead a group of 10-15 students through the sugar bush and teach tree identification and how to tap a tree. Guides will also assist in group management and time keeping as they lead their group to visit the interpretive stations.
  • Interpretive Station Leaders: Provide 5-7 minute presentation for each group at your station (1-2 leaders for each station).
  • Chepotakay Station: (1-2 per fieldtrip) Displays authentic Ho-Chunk Chepotakay (round-dwelling) and describes what life was like in the 1300’s for Ho-Chunk people.
  • Ho-Chunk Nation Sap Processing Methods Station: (1-2 per fieldtrip) Displays a fire with clay pots and describes how Ho-Chunk Nation tapped maple trees and processed sap in the 1300’s.
  • Pioneers and Settlers Processing Methods Station: (1-2 per fieldtrip) Displays iron kettles and describes how European settlers and pioneers tapped maple trees processed sap in the 1700’s
  • Backyard Evaporator Demonstration Station: (1-2 per fieldtrip) Displays a modern back-yard evaporator and describes how to process sap at home today.
  • Evaporator Station: This station is inside of the Wallen Sugar House and shows the modern evaporator pan that is used to process maple sap today. This is where MacKenzie Sap is first cooked.
  • Finishing House Station: (1-2 per fieldtrip) This station is where the boiled down sap is brought for “finishing.” ”Finishing” means to continue the evaporation process until the sap becomes syrup.
  • Campfire Station: (1-2 per fieldtrip) This is the last stop on the tour, a final review and taste tests of the syrup. If the group answers all of the questions correctly, they can have a taste test –joking, of course they get to test it. You may ask some of the following questions:


  • Sap collectors: (number needed varies) Help collect sap from full buckets after programs and potentially on weekends.
  • Sap cookers: (number needed varies) Help cook the sap at the evaporator tray station in the Wallen Sugarhouse. Potential shifts: 5am-8am; 8am-2pm; 12pm-4pm.
  • Sap finishers: (number needed varies) Help finish cooking the syrup in the finishing house and jar the syrup using sanitary canning processes. Available late afternoon (3-4pm).
  • Maple Festival Volunteers: Help staff and run the Maple Syrup Festival annually on the first Saturday in April. Volunteers are needed to assist with maple tours, talk during horse-drawn wagon rides, sell concessions, serve the pancake breakfast, provide traffic control and more.


About Volunteering: Mackenzie Center Maple Guide.


Here comes the yellow school bus bringing a load of enthusiastic fourth graders set to swarm the otherwise quiet and serene MacKenzie center.  As the excited youngsters and chaperones disembark, groups are formed and introductions are made. I begin by discussing the day’s events. I immediately ask the students “why are you here?” Some answer “to see the animals” while others inform me they are here to “eat maple syrup” or “climb the tower!” We begin our lessons by learning how to identify sugar maple trees but the tricky part is all the identifying leaves fell in the fall. I explain about photosynthesis and why this is such an important part of the maple process.

As a guide, I like to remind the students of Native Americans and how they came to a “sugar bush” to collect sap. In order to collect sap, we use a spile pounded into the maple tree so the sap can run out. A plant, the elderberry bush, is used to make these spiles. I show the students what the elderberry wood looks like and each makes a spile of their own to take home. Guiding my group, I find a maple tree to tap and show them how this is done. Hopefully the weather is cooperating and the temperature is just right for the sap to flow. I encourage the students to taste the sap.

At this point it is mostly water and we discuss how it becomes syrup. We make our way from the “sugar bush” to the finishing area so the students can see how sap was boiled years ago comparing to how it’s done today. Ending our day in the woods, we are treated with time to sit around a camp fire and discuss what they have just experienced. The best part is the reward of a spoonful of “liquid gold,” or maple syrup as you may know it.

~ Steve Siegler, Maple Education Program Volunteer since 2009.