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Tree tapping season begins at Keystone College

Environmental students at the college have some long days and even longer nights ahead of them over the next several weeks; it's time for maple syrup season.

LA PLUME, Pa. — With above-freezing days, and below-freezing nights this week, wildlife biology students at Keystone College decided it was time to tap the first trees of the season. 

And sure enough, sap is flowing, officially marking the start of maple syrup season in Lackawanna County. 

"The first, you need to identify maple trees and why do we tap maple? We have sugar maple and red maple trees," said Kelley Stewart, Director of Woodlands Campus, Keystone College.

Sugar maple are the preferred tree to tap because they have a higher sugar content. 

On average, it takes about 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup, which means whether it is your business or your hobby, it takes quite the dedication. 

And for the most part, the program at Keystone is entirely student-run.  

"I grew up with maple syrup, I grew up here. It was always something I took for granted," said Keystone College student Mitchell Davis. "Once I stepped inside here and given the opportunity here at Keystone to learn more, I really fell in love with it. It's a labor of love. You spend a lot of time, and you don't get much out of it other than syrup."

Keystone is one of only three other colleges in the state with a program like this, along with Penn State and Juniata College. Students at Keystone will tap about 100 trees this year, and they say once you tap your first one, it becomes sort of an obsession.

"I think I've spent already 20 hours up here in the past two weeks between fixing our loud vacuum out here and sealing up holes, and finally, once you open up those valves and you see sap start to flow, it's like, oh my god," said Davis, a junior from Factoryville. 

And those hours only get longer as students get deeper into the season and the process, boiling the sap, filtering it, and of course, bottling it. 

Some say they will be there until 3 or 4 in the morning this semester. And because students in the program are so passionate about it, they are always eager to offer tours and teach the community what goes on here.

"Just looking a little closer when you take a walk through the woods and being able to identify the species and see the value," Stewart said.

Students will also be hosting an open house at the Sugar Shack on Saturday, March 4.

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