(NECN: Jack Thurston, Hardwick, Vt.) - When the crocus shot up in his front yard in what seemed like hours this year, Eric Remick was thinking it was too much, too fast. His Sweet Stone Maple Farm in Hardwick, Vt. is now trying to stretch out the state's prized maple season. Normally, freezing nights and sunny days in the 40s encourage the trees to pump sap to their branches. Syrup producers capture it, then boil it down to syrup.
The fear is, with temperatures in the 70s this week, never predicted to dip to freezing, the trees won't produce as much sap.
"I was hoping for a really good year," Remick said. "I'm at 38-40 percent of last year's production right now."
Agriculture officials say in southern Vermont, many trees have already started producing buds, marking the end of the maple season. But in the northern part of the state, the sap is still running.
"We're hoping the season will continue for a while longer," said Henry Marckes of the Vermont Agriculture Agency.
Marckres serves as the state's maple specialist. He knew, no matter the weather, Vermont was going to have a hard time matching last year's record output of 1.4-million gallons of finished syrup. That total led the nation. Vermont is home to approximately 2,000 maple producers, according to industry estimates.
This year, more producers got into the business, and others expanded. For the ones who could gather sap in warm-ups in late January or February, Marckres predicts an okay season.
"The people who waited until Town Meeting Day [in early March] to tap, like we used to years ago, are probably out of luck in terms of making a good crop of syrup," he said.
"It's who we are; what the Kingdom is all about," Gloria Bruce said of Vermonters' reputation for both working and playing in the woods.
Bruce's group, the Northeast Kingdom Travel and Tourism Association, promotes tourism in the three-county region in Vermont's northeast corner. She said it has not been an easy job in the past seven months, after Tropical Storm Irene took a bite out of foliage season, then a lack of major winter storms melted the snowmobiling season, which is a big draw in the Kingdom. The lackluster snowfall total also forced many in the tourism sector, including Bruce, to try to convince skiers that resorts could make snow to make up for what Mother Nature failed to deliver.
For this coming weekend, Bruce said she expects positive results. Many Vermont maple producers will hold open houses Saturday and Sunday for the state’s eleventh annual Maple Open House Weekend. Bruce expects turnout will climb because of the nice weather.
"We're really optimistic that it's just another reason to get out and enjoy," she said.
Eric Remick hopes his vacuum pumps can coax the trees into spitting out sap just a little longer, so he and his customers can make the most out of Vermont's sweetest season.
"You can't know until it's over," he said.
For more on this weekend's Maple Open House Weekend in Vermont, visit this website: http://www.vermontmaple.org/open-house-weekend.php
To learn more about tourism opportunities in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom, click here: http://travelthekingdom.com/