Tapping into Dena’ina Land

A birch tree-tapping outing teaches CITC youth about the natural resources of Dena’ina land

Young people with CITC’s Prevention Program learned to tap birch trees for birch water to make syrup.

Recovery Services Prevention Program students, their families, and staff recently spent a fun day at the Alaska Birch Syrup and Wild Harvest Products shop in Talkeetna, learning about birch tree tapping.

Students learned about the many steps required to successfully turn birch tree water into flavorful drinks, concentrates, and syrup. According to the owners, Dulce and Michael East, birch tree tapping occurs during a short and intense three-week harvesting period. All of the birch tree products we see are a result of that harvesting period.

The tour began with learning about the process and what an evaporator does. Michael discussed the process from tree tapping to the most familiar product result, syrup.

Students learned to use a spile, like the one pictured, to tap birch trees.

The lesson then moved on to the process of tapping the trees, when to tap, and how to decide which trees were good options for tapping to ensure the trees lived a long and healthy life.

Michael helped students with a few practice taps on a sample tree.

Then he welcome interested students to try tapping a tree on their own. The process included drilling, gently hammering in a spile, and placing a bucket to catch the sap.

Students chattered excitedly as their taps were rewarded with gushing sap that would soon be processed into syrup.

To wrap up the tour, everyone was able to try birch tree sap from different times of the harvest. There are usually three tapping runs per harvesting period and each of these runs provide a very different taste of the sap.

A student samples syrup made from birch water.

Students left with their very own tapping spiles, a new appreciation of the many stages of birch syrup, and memories that will leave a sweet taste in their mouths forever.

“It’s important we make time for getting outside and learning how to reconnect with the land that the Dena’ina have been stewards to for thousands of years, and now it’s our time to teach the youth to become stewards of the land too,” said Crystalyn Lemieux, Prevention Program Manager.

The next adventure for Recovery Services Prevention Program participants will be a hooligan fishing event on May 20. Interested in Prevention Program opportunities? Visit the Prevention Program page for more information, or check out the CITC calendar or Facebook for upcoming outings.