Maple Syrup season is fast approaching and the New Canaan Nature Center staff is getting ready to tap its trees and welcome the community to be part of this New England tradition. This winter there are a number of programs and opportunities for families, groups and individuals to observe, learn and even be an active part of the syrup-making process.

Under the leadership of Keith Marshall, director of education since 2008, the Nature Center has greatly expanded its maple syrup program over the last few years.

"Our goal is to directly involve people with the process," Marshall said. "Traditionally, our programs were about coming for an hour to watch and listen, whereas now families are actually helping us produce our own syrup, or are learning how to go home and produce syrup from their own trees."

The center now taps more than 50 of its own trees and produces syrup that is shared with participating families and sold in the visitor's center.

The Adopt-A-Sugar-Maple-Tree program will kick off on Saturday, Feb. 4. This popular program is a way for families or groups to tap and collect sap from their own tree at the nature center, participate in the boil down process at the sugar house and learn firsthand about the entire process as well as other early spring nature happenings. The program, which ends with a syrup celebration in March, is a way for families to get outdoors in the winter months and have direct connection with nature. Trees must be reserved in advance and participants can attend at either 11 a.m. or 12:30 p.m. to select and tap their tree. The cost is $65 for the 5-7 weeklong season program.

Those interested in making syrup from maple trees in their own backyard can participate in the Backyard Syruping Session on Saturday, Feb. 18, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. The Nature Center Syruping Team will teach how to identify sugar maples, when to tap your trees, pointers for monitoring sap flow and collecting sap and techniques for the evaporation/boil down process. Learn about the history of this New England tradition, what syrup grades really mean, what causes sap to flow in winter and what commercial syrup grades really mean. Educators will demonstrate every step of the process so participants can go home and get started right away. Each registered group will receive three spiles for tree tapping from Tap My Trees (www.tapmytrees.com). The cost for the Backyard Syruping Session is $30 for NCNC members and $45 for non-members.

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For the first time this year, the Nature Center will host scheduled boil downs at the sugar house that will be open to the public. Members and guests are invited to stop by these informal gatherings to see the evaporator in action and watch the center's sugaring team complete the process of turning sap into rich maple syrup. Weather conditions will impact dates and times, so those interested should sign up for email alerts at www.NewCanaanNature.org or check the Nature Center's Facebook page.

The nature center's staff of educators is also busy leading maple syrup programs for schools, scouts and other groups who visit the nature center throughout the syrup season. These group programs can be booked by calling 203-966-9577, ext. 20.

Syrup season will conclude with the annual Syrup Celebration & Pancake Breakfast Saturday, March 17, from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Guests enjoy breakfast and sample various grades of syrup, hike down "Maple Lane" and learn some tree identification tips, see a tree tapping demo, sap boil down and more. Kids can make a maple-themed craft as well as enjoy other seasonal games and activities. Cost is $8 per person for members and $12 per person for non-members.