Victoria Bednarz, Staff Writer
Many firsts took place March 5 as the Outdoors Club ventured on a Maple Ecology Hike hosted by The New Weis Center. Not only is the club new to Bergen, just having started at the beginning of this academic year, but also is the Maple Ecology Hike to The New Weis Center.
The hike started off with The New Weis Center’s Sarah Crosby, a senior educator and BCC alum, and Amanda, an intern, giving a brief lesson on how to spot a sugar maple tree. Sarah guided the group through different varieties of branching and bark that are characteristic of the maple. Participants were to look out for bark that peeled from side to side and opposite branching. This is when the branches on one side of the twig have mirrored branching on the opposite side: a type of growth she likes to call “buddy branching.”
Sarah pointed out multiple maple trees amongst the forest of pine, dogwood and birches and tested the group’s tree identification skills. Hikers even got to see firsthand the effects of the invasive beetle species that have found homes beneath birch trees and caused woodpeckers to destroy their bark.
Familiarized with the bark and branch type of the maple tree, the group was ready to set foot in search of their own to tap. However, with winds at 13 miles per hour and the temperature at 35 degrees, the odds for ideal tree tapping conditions were not in the group’s favor. Every attendee had their heads nestled in their hoods and hands stuffed away in their pockets. Their masks acted as a godsend rather than the usual nuisance.
Sarah and Amanda led the group to a tree that had already been tapped days before and was now frozen solid. They explained the history of tree tapping, where in the tree the sap comes from and the process of sugaring. Sarah laughed as she admitted she was a little uncomfortable talking about cells in front of her former Biology professor, Professor Dill.
To the group’s surprise, the sap’s appearance and taste resembled that of water. It was mostly translucent with a foggy amber tint and it was faintly sweet, due to the 2 to 3% sugar content.
The group of ten, including five-year-old Rebecca and her mom Martha Hucks, a BCC student and the Outdoors Club’s Vice President, walked over to a station where Sarah and Amanda had set up an evaporation system. At an hour and a half long, the hike was timed perfectly to keep the children engaged, but nowhere near the length it would take to turn the sap into syrup. It takes a gruesome 16 hours for the Weis Center to boil their sap down to a syrup and 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup.
At the end of the hike, the group was even given an opportunity to taste different syrups collected at various points in the season.
The Outdoors Club president Jade Tollis and advisor Professor Dill took advantage of this seemingly inopportune time to hold weekly meetings and plan engaging events, including a live terrapin release that was streamed earlier in the year.
If starting a brand new club in the middle of a pandemic sounds like too big of a feat for anyone to take on and execute successfully, imagine reopening a historical center that was almost demolished.
The New Weis Center, which reopened in 2016 as a 501c3 non-profit after being closed for four years, works largely to provide after-school and summer programs for children, in addition to their tree tapping events. They are always looking for interns to serve for three months on a rotating basis and assist with the center’s gardens, grounds and programs. Now, visitors are able to learn about the center’s 150 acre share of the Norvin Green Forest area; however, this was not always the case, as in 2013 the NJ Department of Environmental Protection was supposed to take the land only if its infrastructure was demolished.
If only the DEP knew that eight years later, the previously named Weis Ecology Center would persevere as a historical landmark, educate the community and house socially distanced events in the midst of a pandemic for so many to enjoy.