Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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March 21, 2013

Maple syrup producer returns to W.Va.

SISTERSVILLE, W.Va. (AP) — Several miles up a winding country road outside of Sistersville, a recently constructed warehouse sits on a knoll. Inside the cavernous building, Ed Howell checks readings on a gleaming stainless steel tank-like structure.

Plastic lines snake in from outdoors and move a colorless liquid through a complicated series of machines under Howell's close watch.

The maple syrup that eventually emerges from the high-tech equipment will probably find a homey final destination on a stack of pancakes or warm waffles.

He bottled 92 gallons of maple syrup from 525 taps this year for Sweetcreek Sugarworks, the company he owns with his wife, Connie. They named the company for an incident years ago that involved an open drain and sap flowing into a creek.

Maple syrup production has come a long way from the days when settlers collected buckets full of maple sap and boiled it down over an open fire. The sap still comes from trees, but today's producers use plastic tubes for collection and highly technical equipment such as reverse osmosis machines, evaporators, filters and canners to convert the sap into syrup.

Syrup producers usually get a gallon of syrup from 50 gallons of sap. It takes Howell more like 90 gallons to make one gallon of syrup, due in part to the many pine trees that shade his maples and inhibit photosynthesis, which is necessary for sugar production.

His 160 acres don't get as much snowfall as he'd like, either. Snow cover encourages the trees to run.

Maple syrup production in the hills of West Virginia is proving more challenging than it was in Chardon, Ohio, where he and Connie lived and produced maple syrup for 25 years. The Howells moved into the loft they built above the Tyler County workspace in 2010 largely because he wanted to return to the state in which he was raised.

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