53rd Annual Highland Maple Festival – Making Syrup in Virginia

This year’s Highland Maple Festival was held the weekends of March 12 – 13, 2011, and March 19 – 20, 2011. I was working on clearing out the overgrown flower beds around the house, so as much as I wanted to go, I had to postpone my trip till next year’s festival.

Fortunately, you are in luck because I can still share the festival with you! Facebook has reconnected me with a lot of my old friends. One of my fellow Nottoway High School alumni makes the long trip from the Richmond area to Highland County each year for the festival. Below are some of Charley Nowlin’s pictures and a little info about the festival. Thank you, Charley!

Charles Nowlin
The crisp, cool air of Virginia’s Appalachian Mountains is the perfect setting for the annual maple festival in Highland County Virginia, known as “Virginia’s Little Switzerland”. The festival is every 2nd and 3rd weekend of March, and the main events are in Monterey, VA.

There are craft shows, dancing, and singing to old-time mountain music. There is also a lot of good food! Take a taste of fresh deep-fried river trout, some country ham with beans, or enjoy fresh-fried pork rinds. The real treats, the ones that draw thousands to the back roads of Virginia each spring, are the sugar camps.

Go back in time by visiting the 6 to 8 sugar camps tucked deep in the mountains. This is where the maple syrup is produced. As we drive into one of the camps, you can see the tapped maple trees. Sugar water drips from the taps into old-time galvanized pails. Other camps may use miles of plastic tubing to gather the sugar water. The water is collected daily and is boiled down over an open wood fire in an old rustic wooden shack. After hours of boiling, 98% of the water is evaporated, leaving pure and delicious maple syrup.

My daughter and I always end the day by eating at one of the sugar camps. This year we enjoyed a Mennonite organized buffet that started at 5pm on Saturday (note that they don’t do it on Sunday). Here you can enjoy all the pork tenderloin, fried popcorn shrimp, pork BBQ, and baked chicken you want, accompanied by an array of veggies. Top off the meal with one of the many homemade desserts that they offer.

Other trip highlights include The Highland County Museum, with a replica Civil War camp, reeneactments, and exhibits, as well as The Maple Museum in Montery, with exhibits illustrating maple syrup making throughout the centuries. Stopping in at many local stores gives you additional opportunity to purchase maple-flavored food. There are also several old-time country stores.

TIPS: Dress warmly in layers and have comfortable walking shoes. Have a GPS!!!

[photos courtesy of Charles Nowlin]

pail of sugar water

pail of sugar water

old fashioned sugar making

old fashioned sugar making

mini sugar evaporator

mini sugar evaporator

using hydrometer to measure sugar

using hydrometer to measure sugar

*** This personal blog is comprised solely of the opinions, views, projects, and travels of its author, Stacey Morgan Smith. She is lucky enough to have loving family and friends whom she drags along with her on her adventures and whom she puts to work on her little farm. She uses this blog to help promote living in the mountains of the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, from Roanoke to the Potomac River.**

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