Maple Moon Sugarbush: The 25th Season

Posted on March 19th, 2012 by Tonia 4 Comments

25 years ago, my parents tapped the maple trees on their sugarbush for the first time. They had just moved back to the States after serving in the Peace Corps for eight years in South America. Being from Chicago originally, my dad was familiar with Northern Wisconsin from vacationing up here with his family as a kid. He started looking around for land and stumbled upon the property they have now called home for 25 years.

It was way back in the woods- eleven miles from the closest town- and had nothing on it but a small log cabin, built with hand tools, and maple trees galore. I mean, TONS of maple trees. My dad’s dream of having a maple syrup operation was looking more realistic. They didn’t waste any time. They hobbled together a makeshift evaporator that first spring, and borrowed taps and pails from anyone who had some to spare.

My mom skimming the foam off the cooking sap – 1987

One of the beauties of maple syrup is that it can be made in a completely low-tech manner. The Native Americans made it using birch-bark “pails”. Over the years we have upgraded from the original cinder-block situation you see above, but it’s still a pretty basic operation: We tap the trees, the sap runs out into the pails, we collect the sap, cook it down, and syrup happens!

Little helpers: my God-brother Brady and me. Age 2 – 1987

My dad’s parents drove up from Chicago to taste the first batch. They love the Northwoods {honeymooned at a rustic lodge up here back when the only transportation to this “wild north land” was a train…unless you wanted to drive the whole way on a dirt road!} and ended up buying a summer cabin about a half hour away.

The operation expanded pretty quickly and my parents bought a draft horse to pull a sled through the woods to make collecting easier. At their most productive, they were tapping about 1200 trees. Customers navigated our 1/2 mile long logging-trail driveway to buy our syrup. We had a sign nailed to a tree half-way down it that read “Keep going, almost there!” because some people would chicken out and turn around thinking they were lost. “Who would live way back here??”

Now, 25 years later, we have scaled back to a comfortable number of 250 taps, and the second generation is gearing up to take a much larger role in the process.

Happy 25th birthday, Maple Moon!!!

Click here to see syruping posts from the past few years.


  1. Caitlyn says:

    I looked at that last picture and totally thought it was Woody. So weird. Glad Jack could join in the fun, hope the weather cooperates so we can come join in the fun!

  2. Peter shaffer says:

    We’re thinking of starting to tap some trees but would like to know the price for a small production. Thanks

  3. Tonia says:

    Peter, Depending on where you live, you may be able to borrow or buy used equipment. This is the way to go for now, until you’re sure it’s something you love doing and can justify buying new stuff. New equipment is very expensive (look into the brand Leader, made in VT…very high quality equipment that will last forever), but is unnecessary if you’re able to find used stuff to get by with. We operated with a used evaporator for 20 years! It was supposed to last us about six years, but we took good care of it and got 20 years out of it before it started leaking. Good luck!! Let me know how I can help…

  4. Tonia says:

    Caitlyn, I hope so too! It would be so fun to show Aleah and Sophie the ropes. They would have so much fun running around in the woods!!

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