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Close-up view of metal buckets on maple trees.

Continuing the Valley’s Long Maple-Tapping Traditions

Sugaring goes back to Indigenous peoples and abolitionists — and is being carried on by regional farmers today.

by Kat Merry
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Maple syrup has a rich and storied history in the Hudson Valley. Where the age-old tradition of tapping trees and the modern adaptations of the final product boil down into a true taste of Americana.

Iroquois peoples are considered to have been the first to tap New York’s sugar maple trees and produce the thick amber syrup. They not only used the results as a sweetener, but also as a medicine, as they believed it had healing properties.

Maple notes are now being added to beer, coffee, and many more food products. (Photo: Joanna Marvel / Hudson Highlands Nature Museum)

Europeans learned the syrup-making process in the 1600s and used their technology to make production more efficient and plentiful, eventually making it a popular commodity for the area and a star on the local market. 

Today, with about 845,000 gallons produced every year, New York rivals Vermont as the second-highest maple-syrup-producing state in the country.

Though maple syrup production has come a long way since the first tap, descendants of the Hudson Valley’s Indigenous peoples continue to protect its importance to their culture and people. Gregory Miller is descended from Mohican ancestors who long lived in the valley and practiced the traditions of maple sugaring as a way to recognize the coming of spring.

Beau Miller, a Mohican tribal member and tribal conservation officer for the Stockbridge-Munsee Community, places metal taps in maple trees. (Photo: Courtesy Starlyn Miller)

Although Miller and his family now reside in Wisconsin, they continue to carry on their Northeastern ancestors’ traditions by producing their own maple syrup. “The process has certainly changed since our people first started making it,” says Miller. “They used to hollow out tree logs and use hot stones to boil down the sap. They would sometimes boil the sap down into sugar instead of syrup, because it was easier to transport.”

The members of Gregory Miller’s family, including daughter-in-law Starlyn Miller, all work together to produce their own syrup at Sugar Bush Camp, part of the Stockbridge-Munsee Reservation. “It is a labor of love,” Gregory Miller says. “Our family echoes the traditions of our ancestors, and for us, it’s about the relationship with the tree. It’s our calendar. No matter how things are going in the world, when the tree tells you it’s time to make syrup, everyone comes together.” 

The history of maple syrup is not just steeped in Native American traditions. It was also a symbolic commodity in one of our history’s most powerful political movements: the abolitionist crusade against slavery. Ailis Clyne, a technician at the Cornell Maple Syrup Program, has studied the historical leaps of this sweet treat and more for her all-things-maple podcast, “Sweet Talk.” 

Maple played a major role in the abolition movement, with advocates calling for a boycott of sugar produced by enslaved people in favor of locally made maple. (Photo: Courtesy Muscoot Farm)

“Many people don’t know that maple syrup played a huge role in the abolitionist movement,” Clyne says. “Quakers pushed it as a sweetener to drive out the use of cane sugar, a product of slave labor.” 

Benjamin Rush, a Founding Father and early voice of abolition, wrote a 1788 essay entitled “Advantages of the Culture of the Sugar Maple Tree.” He describes the promotion of maple syrup “to lessen or destroy the consumption of West Indian sugar, and thus indirectly to destroy negro slavery.” This was one of the first examples of mindful consumption in New England’s history. 

Today, Hudson Valley syrup lovers continue to mindfully buy with a focus on supporting local producers and a product that is pure and unrefined. “People want to make healthier choices and they like the story behind the small-batch brands who work so hard during sugaring season.”

Small-batch maple syrup is a popular product in the region, with about 10 small farms exclusively producing it in the Hudson Valley. (Photo: valleyboi63 / Shutterstock)

Local farms, such as Crown Maple in Dover Plains and the Farm at Miller’s Crossing in Hudson, are hard at work producing each gallon of sugary goodness, but even with modern technology, maple sugaring is still a game of patience and precision. 

Being cheap to produce and reasonable to buy keeps this product in high demand. “Syrup is great because it’s made during a time of year when most other crops are not profitable,” Clyne says, adding that this could be why small-batch syrup production has become so popular in the region. 

Today, there are about 10 small farms that exclusively produce this sweet treat in the Hudson Valley. But you don’t need to be a farmer by trade to get your feet wet in maple sugaring this season, Clyne says. “I know some people who just drill a hole into the maple tree in their backyard to make their own syrup every season,” she says. “It’s one of the rare products you can easily DIY.” 

Beau Miller teaches his son, fellow Mohican tribal member Miles Aupaumut Miller, how to use a stick to clear the drilled hole of debris for the tap. (Photo: Courtesy Starlyn Miller)

Still, when it comes to larger-scale production, Carl Heimuller of the Hudson Highlands Nature Museum says, “there is a real science to it.” Noting that the temperature must be above freezing during the day and drop below freezing at night for a tap to be successful and since the sugaring season is short and sweet — lasting only about 6 weeks between February and March — timing is everything. 

With more local small farms popping up in production, maple syrup is making a new and exciting name for itself on the Hudson Valley food scene — no longer just a topper on the breakfast table or a sweetener for a cup of tea. 

Christian Mercado-Acevedo, a food scientist and student at the Cornell Maple Program, uses his science skills to incorporate maple syrup as a robust flavoring element in collaborations with food and beverages. “My program [The Cornell Maple Program] encouraged us to find non-traditional ways to use maple syrup,” he says. “So I thought, why not beer?”

Today New York is second only to Vermont in annual maple syrup production, producing 845,000 gallons per year. (Photo: Courtesy Hudson Highlands Nature Museum)

Last year Mercado-Acevedo pioneered a project in partnership with a women-founded brewery in Ithaca, N.Y., called Big Red Brewing. Local producers at Arnot Farm donated gallons of syrup to the project and “we created a red winter ale that had those notes of maple flavor.” 

Today, it’s hard to find a coffee shop or restaurant that doesn’t feature some taste of maple on its menu and it’s a nod to how this product has truly become an even greater part of the valley’s cuisine culture since the first tree was tapped.

So whether you’re tapping a tree in your own backyard, honoring the coming of spring, or just kicking back with a maple-infused ale, there are so many ways to celebrate the rich history and sticky footprint maple syrup has left on the Hudson Valley.

Want to get an insider’s look at local syrup production and a “straight from the tap” taste of New York’s 100% pure maple syrup? Check out these events and tours happening this season:

Hudson Highlands Nature Center Maple Sugar Tours

Location: 120 Muser Dr., Cornwall

Dates: Saturdays & Sundays: [February: 3 & 4, 10 & 11, 17 & 18, 24 & 25] [March: 2 & 3]

This is a perfect place to dive right into the maple syrup scene with kiddos in tow. They provide two types of walking tours: The Sugar Bush Tour takes you on a moderate hike through the forest, where you can watch sugar maples being tapped in real time, concluding your hike at the Sugar Bush Shack, where you can taste the final product. Have a stroller in tow or company less inclined to walk? The Maple Lane tour provides all the magic without the exercise. You’ll get a tour of the property’s coveted maple stand, a taste of the fresh syrup made on-site, and a Q&A with their local maple producers. Whichever tour you choose, there will be a bountiful display of sugar maple trees and a sea of syrup waiting at the end.

Sap Happy Maple Weekend, hosted by Dutchess County

Location: 85 Sheafe Rd., Wappingers Falls

Dates: Thursday, March 21 through Sunday, March 24

Don’t miss out on this weekend of maple-flavored fun. A family favorite that has been around since the ’90s, this event offers a chance to meet local producers and taste their sweet treats made from fresh syrup, right before your eyes. It’s all in the family, as you’ll get a look at how each family farm produces its unique batch. There will be an array of snacks and desserts to taste, and since the weather has historically been wet and chilly, we recommend you arrive hungry and bundled.

Corey’s Farm Maple Tours

Location: 105 Hawley’s Corners Rd., Highland

Dates: [during maple weekends] Saturday & Sunday [March: 16 & 17, 23 & 24]

Don’t be afraid to get a little muddy on this walking tour at Corey’s Sugar Shack. This 30-minute tour goes through the Corey family’s maple sugaring process from start to finish. Learn about all the ways syrup has been produced over the years, and get a first-hand look at the specific equipment and method the Corey family uses to get their sweet treat from sap to 100% pure maple syrup. Dress warmly, and don’t forget to hit the on-site shop for your own Corey’s farm’s fresh maple syrup on the way out.

Maple Sugaring Taste and Tour at Seed Song Farm

Location: 160 Esopus Ave., Kingston

Dates: Sundays [March 3, 10, & 16]

In late winter, get in on experiential maple-sugaring weekends for families at Seed Song Farm. (Seed Song Farm is hosted at the Esopus Agricultural Center, where Scenic Hudson holds an easement.) At the March 16 event, guest Speaker Anthony Dandridge, Director of Kingston A.J.W. Myers African Roots Center presents: “We Are the Land,” exploring the profound and enduring connection between people of African descent and the land. The speech delves into the historical, cultural, and contemporary aspects of this relationship, emphasizing its significance in shaping identity, fostering resilience, and preserving heritage.

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Hudson Valley Viewfinder is a collaborative, community digital magazine sharing what inspires us about the beautiful Hudson Valley. We publish original stories and multimedia content about all things sustainable in the region along the Hudson River — including agriculture, science, wildlife, outdoor recreation, green transportation, environmental justice, and more.

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Viewfinder is published by Scenic Hudson, the celebrated nonprofit credited with launching the modern grassroots environmental movement in 1963. With over 25,000 passionate supporters, Scenic Hudson’s mission is to sustain and enhance the Hudson Valley’s inspirational beauty and health for generations to come. Viewfinder supports that mission, because the better people understand what makes this place special, the more they will invest in protecting it. 

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Our mission is to immerse you in the storied history, fresh happenings, and coming solutions for making the Hudson Valley greener and more livable long-term.

Viewfinder is published by Scenic Hudson, the celebrated nonprofit credited with launching the modern grassroots environmental movement in 1963. With over 25,000 passionate supporters, Scenic Hudson’s mission is to sustain and enhance the Hudson Valley’s inspirational beauty and health for generations to come. Viewfinder supports that mission, because the better people understand what makes this place special, the more they will invest in protecting it. 

Keep up with the latest stories by subscribing to Scenic Hudson’s monthly digital newsletter, and connect with us on social via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Threads.

Lynn Freehill-Maye
Managing Editor
editorial@scenichudson.org 

Riley Johndonnell
Director Creative Strategies & Communications
rjohndonnell@scenichudson.org

Lynn Freehill-Maye
Managing Editor
editorial@scenichudson.org 

Riley Johndonnell
Director Creative Strategies & Communications
rjohndonnell@scenichudson.org

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We’re always looking for ideas around our main topic areas of Climate Solutions, Land + Air + Water, Plants + Animals, History + Culture, Outdoors, and Community.
  • Journalists and writers who have deep familiarity with New York and the Hudson Valley, we’d love to have you contribute! Please do introduce yourself by email, sharing writing samples and any relevant pitches you may have.
  • Photographers and videographers, we’d love to hear from you and see what you do. Please send along a portfolio with images or footage that showcases your best and/or most relevant work, with an emphasis on anything captured outdoors. 
  • Illustrators, we commission artwork on the regular. Drop us a note with some of the beauty you’ve created.
  • Media Partners & Social Media Influencers, we welcome opportunities to team up on series and campaigns. Reach out with any background about yourselves and your ideas.
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  • We love to collaborate with media outlets, especially on episodic series (like these) of interest to our shared audiences. Past collaborations have included radio interviews, panel discussions and other events, original artwork, and e-blasts, all furthering the campaign’s excitement and reach. 
  • We also love to partner with other organizations whose missions align with Scenic Hudson’s. Feel free to reach out with some background on your group and its work.
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