ORMOND – After an almost last-minute inaugural season in 2019, South Nation Conservation hopes to increase the popularity of the Oschmann Forest educational sugar bush in 2020.

The donated 18-acre site will open for tours March 16 to April 5. While it marks the second season at this location, it will be the 19th season that SNC has offered maple programming. Previously, it was offered at Sand Road in Moose Creek.

Meanwhile, the 18-acre maple bush and evaporator at Kemptville Campus – mothballed when University of Guelph threw in the towel at its old satellite college – is going back into business this season, drawing sap from 950 taps and producing house brand syrup for sale as part of a demonstration at the Agroforestry Centre. There may be room in the future for joint programming between the two sites.

The only drawback at Oschmann is that, once again, it won’t demonstrate the actual production of syrup, focusing on the collection and storage of sap and a pleasant, informative walk in the squirrel-infested woods for visiting students. The setup isn’t quite there yet in terms of reducing sap into syrup, says coordinator John Mesman. Instead, SNC is seeking a contractor to manage the taps, lines and storage in return for the sap.

According to Mesman, last year 7,330 gallons of sap were sold to a commercial operator for $4,440; with high sugar content, it was rated some of the best sap in Eastern Ontario. Expressions of Interest to manage the equipment over three years have been sought from about 30 operators.

In the inaugural year, nearly 500 K-12 students from nine area schools in groups of up to 50 were hosted over the course of 13 tours. Each participant was – and will be once again – charged $5. Attendance numbers are down compared with the Sand Road site while SNC manages growth based on year-to-year development of the bush. Visiting students will be given a one- to two-hour bilingual hands-on experience about the production of the natural spring tonic as it evolved from aboriginal traditions through to modern techniques.

Along the way, they’ll be informed about forest ecology and ecosystem management and, this year, there’s an option for a team-building activity to reinforce lessons learned in the forest. A USB loaded with classroom activities will be provided to each tour group to continue maple education back at school.

A farm sugar bush that hadn’t been tapped for years, the Oschmann site was donated with impeccable timing. Some $60,000 in funding was secured though various partners and many upgrades were implemented, including construction of a parking lot, installation of interpretive trails and signage, construction of a pump-house and other infrastructure including pipelines, which, Mesman complained, resident squirrels regularly chew.