Every year around this time, when the white blanket gets swapped with the emerald carpet, staff at Red Oak Nature Center calls on the community to assist with a sticky situation.

The evidence is pretty much the same every March, really.

“The snowshoes are put away, trail use is increasing, we’ve got more animal sightings …,” said Renee Oakley, Red Oak’s facility manager. “Spring is on the way – and the sap buckets are coming out!”

One of the first true – and sweet – tastes of spring gets served up Saturday and Sunday at Red Oak, where Maple Fest returns to show guests how tree sap is collected and turned into tasty syrup.

A tradition spanning more than 30 years, Maple Fest offers time-slotted, hands-on tours on the Red Oak property, located on Route 25 in Batavia, a mile north of Butterfield Road. Extremely limited tickets remain available in the 12 p.m. time slot Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday, and you can reserve your space online.

Admission is $3 per person; children 2 and under are free. Additional items for purchase include a Take-Home Tapping Kit ($10) and Maple Investigation Kit ($15) – both new this year, and made available because guests have asked how they can do their own tree-tapping, said Oakley, “and now they can take their learning home.”

As in the past, a “Maple Flight,” featuring three sample syrups, tasting pancakes and bottled water, will be available for $10. Those who purchase a maple flight will receive entry into a drawing for a new fishing rod and reel.

Naturalists from Red Oak will conduct a short presentation, before leading visitors to various stations in the woods to view demonstrations of how maple sap is harvested and turned into maple syrup. Attendees can stop by Sapwood Corner to test their maple-tapping skills firsthand. Sweet maple syrup samples will be given at the end of each tour for registered attendees.

Parking is available in both the main lot at Red Oak, along with additional space at Lippold Park, just to the north.

“It’s hard to find a kid who doesn’t love the sweet taste of sticky syrup,” Oakley said. “At Maple Fest, they can experience the process of turning sap to syrup, from tree to table. You can see the ‘a-ha moments’ on their faces. It’s like they can’t wait to get home to that next stack of pancakes.”

For more information about Red Oak Nature Center, visit redoaknaturecenter.info, call 630-897-1808, or stop by and see us at 2343 N. River St. (Rte. 25).