Maple Sugaring at Millbrook

With the hopeful approach of spring, the sap is running along School Road. Trevor Zoo Director Dr. Alan Tousignant has his temporary sugar house up and running near the emu and wallaby habitat. Zooies are pitching in to collect sap from 35 taps in 22 trees around campus. Part art, part science, maple sugaring is a rite of spring in the Hudson Valley. The sap rises on warm sunny days and descends through the tree as temperatures fall each night. The season is short and it’s all over when the sugar maples begin to bud.
This year, Dr. T made a personal investment and upped his syrup production game by purchasing an evaporator and firebox fueled by dead cherry and locust wood found around campus. After their zoo chores are complete, intrepid zoo squad members Max Amsterdam ’26 and William Grahling ’26 lend a hand while forging a stronger connection to the natural world and doing some real-world chemistry.

Max and William scramble to collect the sap and haul their harvest to a filtering and reverse osmosis setup at the zoo. Once the water content is lowered, the resulting concentrate is added to a serpentine pan and heated to boiling by a wood fire. As the sweet-smelling steam rises from the superheated sap, the sugar is concentrated, begins to change color, and thicken as it approaches the 60% sugar content that can be called maple syrup. A final cook-down happens over a more precise gas fire followed by testing for sugar content.
Maple sugaring at Millbrook is a longstanding tradition most recently practiced by staff member Ron King and students before his retirement. It is a neat representation of what students can discover at the nexus of stewardship, science, and hard work. The results speak for themselves on pancakes and ice cream and the experience is uniquely Millbrook.