Celebrate the sweetness of the season during West Virginia Maple Days

By Vanta Coda III, RealWV

As the afternoon light seeps into the Indian Water Maple Company’s sugar house, Randy Funk assembles a power washer. Photo by Vanta Coda III, Real WV.

Across the vast slopes of the Hartman property, tube-tapped maple trees feed into the Indian Water Maple Company’s sugar house at the bottom of the hill. Karen Hartman and Indian Water Maple Company worker, Randy Funk, wrap up this sugaring season and bottle their product for distribution in the wake of the last day of the 7th Annual West Virginia Maple Days this Saturday. 

West Virginia Maple Days is a statewide event hosted by the West Virginia Maple Syrup Producers Association, in which they help West Virginia growers and consumers connect with each other, in hopes of fostering awareness of the maple industry in West Virginia.

Randy Funk and Karen Hartman label bottles of syrup on March 14, 2024, in preparation of the last weekend of Maple Days. By Vanta Coda III, RealWV

“Our first batch was a gallon of syrup on the stove in 1987,” said Karen Hartman. “We cooked it on the kitchen stove.”

When Karen and her late husband Eddie moved into their house near New Creek, WV in the early 80’s, they found left-over tree taps from the past residence. Deciding to learn maple tapping, they repurposed the tubes and have since built a sugar camp for sapping trees. Over the years, they produced gallons of local maple syrup and distributed it across the state in stores, farmers markets, and maple festivals.

Karen Hartman uses her side-by-side to drive from the sugar shack on her property. Photo by Vanta Coda III, RealWV.

Due to a historic warm winter, the time to tap maples was significantly short this year in the northern Allegheny Range. The indicator of what marks the season’s end, is when a Maple tree’s buds break open, changing the chemical structure of the sap — and therefore the sap loses its sweet flavor. 

“We would have a festival the third weekend in March for years and years,” said Hartman. “This year though, our last cup was on the third of March.”

As the sun glares down through the treeline, Randy Funk takes a tap out of a maple tree. Photo by Vanta Coda III, RealWV.

This winter follows the trend of unusually warm winters over the past couple of years, which have slimmed the harvesting season of sap in some parts of West Virginia. 

“Every year the season gets shorter and shorter for tapping,” said Funk, “it’s always adjusting.”

Karen Hartman stands with a picture of her late husband, Eddie Hartman, who passed away in 2018 — and a plaque gifted by Potomac State College on March 14, 2024. Photo by Vanta Coda III, RealWV.

 Indian Water Maple Company historically has hosted the Potomac Highlands Regional Maplefest each year on the third weekend of March. Additionally, they offer sugar camp tours during the sugaring season, upon request. 

West Virginia Maple Day dates are February 17 and March 16. You can find more information about this year’s participating locations on https://wvmspa.org.

Randy Funk, checks maple taps on the hillside of the Indian Water Maple Company property. Photo by Vanta Coda III, RealWV.
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