Meyersdale rolls out red carpet for Maple Festival

| Saturday, March 23, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Some old friends were sitting around a potbelly stove nearly 70 years ago in Meyersdale, Somerset County, when singer Kate Smith sent out a request via her radio program for some genuine Vermont maple syrup. These gentlemen decided to send Smith some locally produced syrup, instead, to prove that it was as good as syrup from New England. Smith loved this syrup, and the Pennsylvania Maple Festival was born. Local pride in maple production runs deep during the 66th annual Pennsylvania Maple Festival, which continues through today.

Melissa Friend, a festival organizer, said that the region has a long tradition of maple production.

“We're the fifth-largest producer of maple products in the state,” Friend said. “Maple production is a second source of income for many people. As the price of syrup rose and maple production became more profitable, more people began to produce maple products.”

Fred DiPasquale, also a festival organizer, said, “This festival celebrates our local heritage of maple production and of the town itself. It lets people know that there are maple producers outside of Vermont.”

DiPasquale said that the festival will offer many things, including historical re-enactments from Native Americans, the Civil War and World War II. There will be a cobbler's shop, a doctor's office and a sugar camp. Tours of Maple Manor, the oldest dwelling in Meyersdale, will be available. The musical, “The Legend of the Magic Water,” will tell the story of how Native Americans first discovered how sap from maple trees could be boiled down into syrup.

Kyle Hillegas, a maple producer, said that Somerset County has the right conditions for maple productions.

“We're the right elevation; maple trees grow well here,” Hillegas said. “Also, the temperatures do not rise too quickly, which is good for sap production. “

He said that maple production has changed over the years.

“People use to have sugar camps to produce maple products for their own use,” Hillegas said. “Now that maple production is more profitable, maple production has become more industrial.

Hillegas offers advice to beginning maple producers.

“Start small,” he said. “The start-up cost of the equipment for maple production can be expensive. Learn how things work. Take classes.”

Hillegas said that there is a strong demand for maple products.

“More people want natural sweeteners. They want to know where those products come from.”

Friend enourages people to come to the festival and learn more about maple production.

A small admission fee of $5 adults, $1 for children ages 6-12, and free admission for children 5 and under is necessary to enter Maple Festival Park. Admission to “Legend of the Magic Water” requires a small admission fee. Parking is available throughout the town of Meyersdale. Food and drinks are available inside the festival park, along Main and Center Streets. Restaurants and some churches and service organizations will provide meals.

Barbara Starn is a freelance writer.

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