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Thousands flock to maple festival in Highland County

A maple bucket hanging on a maple tree on a farm in Highland County to collect sap.
Roxy Todd
Radio IQ
A maple bucket hanging on a maple tree at the Laurel Fork Sapsucker Sugar Camp in Highland County. The bucket is collecting sap.

March is traditionally the time when maple syrup is boiled down and bottled, but with climate change, some farmers have noticed an earlier season the past several years.

Children run down a hilly path to get to the sugar shack, at the Laurel Fork Sapsucker Sugar Camp in Highland County. 

At the bottom of the hill is a small wooden cabin, where Joe Jarrells boils down sap to make syrup.

2024 was a great season for syrup in Highland County, and Jarrells and his wife tapped their trees for seven weeks, beginning in late January.

“You know that freeze-thaw cycle was what you’re looking for, and we had a lot of that this year,” Jarrells told a group of tourists who were visiting for the area’s annual maple syrup festival.

Tallies for this year are still being calculated, but last year 28,000 people attended the four-day festival, according to the Highland County Chamber of Commerce.

Two young brothers, Alexander and Nickoli, were visiting with their parents from Alexandria. Both love maple syrup.

“I eat it with waffles and pancakes,” Nickoli said.

“Yeah! Me too!” Alexander agreed.

The Jarrells mostly use modern day tubing to collect sap, but they hang metal buckets to show people the old ways.

They've run this business for 14 years, but a changing climate means they have to begin tapping earlier each year. “It’s been a challenge just because of the weather,” said Missy Moyers-Jarrells. “What we thought was gonna be the standard for the first couple years, kind of isn’t. But next year we’ll be ready sooner.”

Many of the maple farms in Highland County, including Laurel Fork, are open for tours and to buy syrup year round. Visitors are encouraged to call ahead or make an appointment.

Trees collecting sap with blue rubber tubing at Laurel Fork Sapsucker Sugar Camp in Highland County
Roxy Todd
Trees collecting sap with rubber tubing at Laurel Fork Sapsucker Sugar Camp in Highland County

Corrected: March 22, 2024 at 9:11 AM EDT
Editor's note: 28,000 people attended the Highland County Maple Festival in 2023. An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that number as 40,000.
Updated: March 20, 2024 at 11:49 AM EDT
Editor's note: In the interest of disclosure, the Highland County Chamber of Commerce, which sponsors the maple festival, is a financial supporter of RadioIQ.
Roxy Todd is Radio IQ's New River Valley Bureau Chief.