A stack of homemade, fluffy pancakes requires warm maple syrup. The best syrup, of course, is the kind that is made from maple sap collected in one's backyard or on the property of the New Canaan Nature Center.

For the past three years, the Nature Center invites families to `adopt' one of the 45 maple sugar trees on its grounds and collect sap several times a week. This season, 25 local families, including children ranging in age from newborns to 12-year-olds, participated in the program.

"I hear families say that they love it," Keith Marshall, director of education at the New Canaan Nature Center, said. "They're out in nature at a time in the middle of the winter when people don't typically want to outside."

Some older children stop by after school to check their buckets. "I'm 40 years old and I love going out to see what's in there," Marshall said. "You can see the excitement on the kids' faces and the parents get as excited as they do. It's a very rewarding experience."

This year, Tap My Trees donated three sap collection buckets that were given away to three New Canaan families in a raffle drawing. The Orelup family won a bucket and set it up on a tree in their backyard.

Timothy, 3-and-a-half, loves checking the bucket to see how much sap has collected since his last visit. A student at the New Canaan Center's preschool, he and his parents, Liz and Chris Orelup, also empty their `adopted' tree located at the Center's Maple Alley. Even though he is young, Timothy understands the rudiments of gathering sap and boiling it down to make maple syrup. "You need a hook to attach the bucket," Timothy said.

He also pointed out that there is a cap on the bucket.

"This is so no animals can get inside," Timothy said.

This week his parents boiled down the sap collected from the tree at their residence. Liz Orelup said that she burned the first batch. "You keep adding the sap and changing pots," she said.

Although the overcooked sap wasn't tasty as syrup, Liz Orelup said it could easily be turned into maple sugar. Timothy patiently waited for the second batch to be done. "It's still cooking, I think," he said.

This Saturday, Timothy and his family will enjoy a pancake brunch featuring some of the Nature Center's own homemade maple syrup. This annual event is from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

"Timothy loves pancakes," Liz Orelup said. "He's already had some at home with the maple syrup we made from our tree."

Naturalists will be on hand to lead hikes through Maple Lane and share information about ways to identify sugar maple trees. Children will be able to create maple shaped crafts.

Since most of the activities take place outside, everyone is encouraged to warm up at the campfire.

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