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LUCAS, OH --

Matt Brownell, 23, returned March 4 to an annual event he has enjoyed most of his life — Malabar Farm State Park’s  Maple Syrup Festival.

This year, for the first time, his 3-year-old son Auden was old enough to come with him, along with his father, Tom, to enjoy watching how syrup is being made in the fresh, nearly springtime air.

The trio rode uphill, through tall stands of trees, in a wagon pulled by draft horses to the sugar camp clearing. They listened to explanations of methods that have evolved over the years for making maple syrup. They had a chance to taste maple syrup, and stop by Native American and pioneer historical demonstrations.

The annual festival happened March 11 and 12 from noon to 4 p.m.

Brownell was pleased to make the annual pilgrimage  — and to stand in a line, in a building near the sugar camp, with others waiting to buy jugs of syrup and bags of maple-flavored cotton candy.

“I’ve been coming here ever since I remember — probably since I was 10,” Brownell said Saturday. “I just love all of this stuff.”

The Mansfield man’s favorite Malabar Farm event each year tends to be Heritage Days, with its seemingly endless array of historical exhibits. But the smaller-scale Maple Syrup Festival is an event he doesn’t like to miss — and he was pleased to bring his son to experience it.

Assistant Park Manager Siera Marth said the Maple Syrup Festival has healthy attendance for an event that is partly held in the outdoors  during a season when winter still has a hold.

“It’s not unusual to have a couple of thousand people come here per day,” she said. “We’re pretty lucky today. The sun is shining and it’s not raining,” leaving footpaths in the sugar camp dry, she said.

With a high near 50 expected for Sunday, “I would expect a lot more people,” Marth predicted.

Along with the other historical demonstrations, the Malabar Spinning and Weaving Guild and Richland County Historical Society are offering demonstrations or exhibits in various locations on the state park grounds.

During the Maple Syrup Festival,  there is no charge for tours “of the downstairs” rooms in Louis Bromfield’s Big House, Marth noted.

Admission to the Maple Syrup Festival itself is free. However, visitors are invited to drop donations in a bucket to support the horse-drawn wagon rides organized through the Central Ohio Draft Horse Association.

The Maple Syrup Festival takes place annually during the first two weekends in March.

This year, unusually warm weather in February interfered with the usual seasonal rhythm for syrup production, which generally takes six weeks, Marth said.

“To this date, we haven’t made hardly any maple syrup,” at the sugar camp itself, she said.

That didn’t stop visitors — especially those who revel in fresh air and outdoors environments — from making their way to Malabar Farm on Saturday.

Jessica Williams, a history teacher who works in the Toledo area, was in Mansfield with her mother, Mary Williams, to shop for a wedding dress. Once they’d completed that, they had the afternoon free.

Both had visited Malabar Farm State Park at least once before.

“I just really like this area. It’s pretty,” Jessica Williams said, adding she enjoyed the terrain, as well as the opportunity to take in some Ohio history. “Toledo is pretty flat,” she said.

Mary Williams said both women love to get out of the house and explore the outdoors at events like the Maple Syrup Festival and Civil War re-enactments.

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