Sugar Camp: A sweet Seneca County tradition
By Michael Carter
For more than 125 years the Snavely family has been one of Seneca County’s largest Maple Syrup producers. Paul and Evelyn Snavely are now in charge of the Maple Camp that dates back to the late 1800s.
Paul and Evelyn, both 68 and married for 50 years, have plenty of help, however. They, along with Paul’s brother, Steve, and their sons, Brian, Rodney, Chris and Mark, have a hand in the maple syrup process.
“This is 100 percent a family business,” Paul said. “We have help from all our families’ wives and children included. Our grandchildren are actually the seventh generation of Snavelys to work this camp.”
The maple collecting process gets started around the middle of February. It is, however, weather dependent so things can get started at almost anytime during the month.
“You need the thawing and freezing to go back and forth,” Paul explained. “We normally start tapping trees around the 14th or 15th of February, but last year it was much earlier than that with the mild winter and early spring.”
Trees collect sugar and starch from their leaves all summer long. They then store that sugar and starch in their roots for the winter. As the spring approaches and the thaw begins, the trees start to release that sugar and starch from the roots and that is when the maple sap is collected.
“We are just now getting started,” Paul said on Feb. 14. “We are getting our buckets ready and the collection will start soon.”
The Snavelys collect sap in six different woods today. They hang between 1,500 and 1,600 buckets each year. The family business still operates the way it has for generations in some respects by still using buckets.
“We probably have over 100 acres of woods to collect from,” Paul said. “We have always collected from our family woods, on Township Road 138, Seneca County, but we also have five other woods that we now collect from.”
All the sap is collected and then transported to the Maple Camp on TR 138 where it is processed into syrup.
“It takes 45 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of syrup,” Paul said. “We collect the sap on a daily basis and store it all at the camp. Once we have enough collected, we start the boiling process to separate the water out of the sap to give us the maple syrup.”
In the past the Snavelys have produced about 4 gallons an hour, however, they purchased a new reverse osmosis machine that will extract the syrup faster and give it a higher sugar content. Last year the Snavelys went through 7,000 gallons of Diesel fuel as part of their process which led to the decision to switch to reverse osmosis, he said.
“Our new system should make us a little more efficient,” Paul said. “By forcing the sap through this machine at 400 pounds of pressure, we will get a product that has around 8 percent sugar content compared to 2 percent the old way.
“This will cut down on labor and fuel costs tremendously. By using this process we should be able to produce around 16 gallons an hour compared to the four the old way.”
The change keeps expenses down and the farm can still offer Pure Ohio Maple Syrup at $45 a gallon — far different that many store syrup products that are flavored maple and made with corn syrup.
The Snavelys have produced as much as 600 gallons of maple syrup in a year and figures they need to produce at least 200 gallons to cover their costs.
“We had a very good year last year and produced 550 gallons,” said Paul.
“Things are not always that good,” he added. “I remember back in 1991 we only produced 70 gallons, is was just a very bad year for us.”
The Snavelys distribute most of their syrup to life-long customers.
“We have had people who have used our syrup for generations, and those are the people we like to take care of first,” Paul said.
“We do, however, have a few dealers who sell our syrup. We have Bergman Orchards in Marblehead, Coopers Mill in Bucyrus and Molyet’s Farm Market in Tiffin.”
Snavelys package their syrup in containers as small as 3.4 ounces up to gallons and every size in between.
“I have been doing this for as long as I can remember,” Paul said. “I remember getting off the bus as a kid and going directly to the maple camp to help Dad. Now I own and run the camp and also sit on the Ohio Maple Producers Association Board. So this has pretty much become my way of life.”
Snavelys Maple Camp is located near their home at 9735 E. Twp. Rd. 138 in Seneca County. You can contact them by calling either (419) 639‑2049 or (419) 307‑2173.
“This is just something I love to do,” said Paul. “I have been doing this for so long I just don’t know what I would do without it in my life.”