Michigan Maplefest 2011 Part 2

Since I had some free time, I took a walk around the area. I had no interest in the numerous gift shops lining both sides of the main street, so I just wandered at first. To get from the hotel to the downtown area, you have to cross THE COVERED BRIDGE. I was mildly interested in it as I stepped onto the pedestrian part of the bridge and began walking. As I walked across I felt the bridge “work” as the cars, trucks, and buses made their way across. I started looking at it more closely. It appeared to be all made of wood. The overlapping joints between the wooden members had numerous wooden stops in them. Old time wooden structures were often pinned together with trunnels (from tree nail.) These are large wooden pins driven into precisely drilled holes. As I walked and looked, I became more and more interested. By the time I got to the other side, I’d lost interest in the walk, and found a breach in the fence that guarded the sidewalk from the river, and walked beneath the bridge. Everything I saw under there was wood. I looked it over as much as I could from the vantage point I had, and then walked back to the sidewalk. There was a plaque that told about the bridge, and said there was a video that played continuously in one of the gift shops that detailed the construction and installation of the bridge. I found the place and sat there through the whole thing twice. It was amazing! The trunnels were real. The whole thing was built on one side of the river, and dragged across the river by two oxen attached to a capstan. (Click on THE COVERED BRIDGE above for more information and pictures.)

Unfortunately, the bridge seems to be falling into disrepair. There were several cedar shingles missing on the roof, and when I looked at it carefully, I could tell that no one was paying much attention to it.

On Tuesday the technical meetings started, and I attended all that my schedule allowed. I felt very good about what I learned on Tuesday. Wednesday was set aside for tours. The one I chose involved a trip to Sebewaing (in the thumb area of Michigan) and the sugar beet factory. It was amazing. Because of homeland security issues, we weren’t allowed into the factory, but they did park the bus in the parking lot where trucks were moving the beets from storage and dumping them into the hopper for the first step of processing. The beets are washed, sliced, and squeezed. The juice is centrifuged to clarify it, and then boiled to remove the excess water. When the sugar content is just right, a small amount of seed sugar crystals are introduced into the pans, at which point the granulated sugar precipitates out. This is then dried and stored in a huge double walled concrete silo until it can be packaged and shipped. Did you think, as I did, that table sugar was made from sugar cane? Well, according to the experts at the plant, 50% of table sugar comes from beets, 40% from cane, and 10% from other sources. If you want to buy a pure Michigan product next time you buy granulated sugar, choose Pioneer or Big Chief brands.

After this tour, we visited a 5th generation sugar house, and were able to ask questions from the owner. He said the 6th generation was running around, and there was no reason to believe they wouldn’t take over someday. Their maple trees were huge! They had barely escaped a fire that raged through the thumb are decades ago, which explained why the trees were so big. It is one of the few stands of old growth maple in the area.

When we returned to the hotel after the tours, I jumped in the rental car and headed back to Lansing for a very nice visit with my parents. In addition, we were all to attend a recognition dinner on Friday night where I was to receive the Volunteer of the Year award from the Michigan Nature Association for the work Alice and I had done in the Estivant Pines over the years.

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