WILSONS MILLS — With roughly 25,000 taps and 150 miles of tubing draining sap from maple trees down Aziscohos Mountain to a sugarhouse, Nick Staley is getting little sleep these days.

Staley and his wife, Melanie, of Lancaster, N.H., are in the first year of operating the family business, Maple Mills. It is off Route 16 in Lincoln Plantation in northern Oxford County, near the New Hampshire border.

The Staleys’ three children, Owen, 14, Austin, 13, and Lila, 9, and Nick’s grandparents, Norman and Muriel Littlehale of Wilsons Mills, are pitching in to help, along with four employees.

“This time of year it is a full-time operation,” Nick Staley said.

He is familiar with Maine and maple sugar season. He grew up in Wilsons Mills, living there until the eighth grade, when he moved to Norway.

The family will be boiling sap at the sugarhouse on Saturday, March 26, and on Maine Maple Sunday, March 27. People are invited to stop by, he said. Wilsons Mills is 28 miles north of Rangeley and 14 miles north of Errol, N.H.

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The maple sugar operation is set on 500 acres that has been in Staley’s family for more than 100 years. The timber has only been selectively cut over the years, and probably 70 percent of the trees have never been tapped, he said.

The Staleys tapped trees at their New Hampshire home in a small operation, and used pails and buckets to capture the sap.

“The kids enjoyed (it),” he said. “We enjoyed it.”

They decided to set up a large-scale operation in Maine.

“This is the first phase of our project with an expansion planned for the 2017 season,” Staley said. “We purchased equipment large enough to accommodate our entire property.”

They contracted with veteran sugar-maker David Fuller of Fuller’s Sugar House in Lancaster, N.H.

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“We started hanging pipe in the woods in late May 2015 and finished in December,” Staley said.

The sugarhouse was constructed during the spring and fall.

“The first of the year, our crew started tapping trees,” Melanie Staley said. “We were about half tapped when we received our first sap run. We finished tapping the second week in February and have been in full gear since.”

Once the sap drains to the sugarhouse, it is captured in large holding tanks and processed through a reverse osmosis machine. This machine removes more than 75 percent of the water from the sap, Nick Staley said. The concentrate then gets pumped up into another holding tank and slowly drains down into an evaporator.

Their children help on weekends to bottle syrup for sale.

“As for the majority of the syrup, it is pumped into 55-gallon drums and will be sold in bulk,” Melanie Staley said.

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Representatives of Farm Credit East in Auburn worked closely with the Staleys on their investment and helped them set up a payment plan to fit their needs and income, she said.

Maple sugaring is not their full-time job.

“We both work at Santa’s Village in Jefferson, N.H.,” Melanie Staley said. “This just happens to be the park’s downtime.” 

The family stays at their house in Wilsons Mills when in Maine.

Once the season is over, the children and crew will remove the taps from the trees. This lets the trees start healing and the holes will close up.

Next year when they tap trees, they will pick a different part of the tree to drill into to keep the tree healthy and unharmed, she said.

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“We are very excited about what we’ve built here,” Nick Staley said. “My family’s interested. Our kids have an interest in this business.”

Melanie Staley added, “We are planning on producing syrup for many years to come with hopes that our children will continue the business for generations to come.”

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Maple houses open this weekend

Find a local sugar houses to visit this weekend.

 


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