MEYERSDALE, Pa.—Black Bear Maple Camp is back in business this maple season just a year after a devastating fire destroyed everything.
"We've made seventeen barrels already," said owner Roger Newman on Feb. 13. The farm has 7,500 taps out this year.
On Feb. 22, 2019 a fire at the sugarhouse destroyed the entire operation.
"We were devastated at the time of the fire not only because we lost all the assets but also because we lost the building we built from scratch," said owner Cindy Newman.
"But in the months that followed, we are able to rebuild with the help of friends in the great maple community and as difficult of a process as it was to go through this experience, we had the opportunity to change some things by building a new camp."
In November, a CDL field day brought several members of the Somerset County (Pa.) Maple Producers Association and other interested people in the maple industry out to see the new, improved camp that sits in the same location.
The Newmans suffered a total loss after another source of heat in their camp malfunctioned and caused the fire. Six fire departments and over 50 firefighters responded at the time.
The Newmans built their camp in 2017, the first year they started to boil. They live in Swanton, Md., but constructed their camp at the hunting camp property of their friends, the Marlin Sherbine family of Somerset, Pa.
While the maple camp was located right alongside the hunting camp, the firefighters quick response that stormy afternoon saved the hunting camp that had been constructed there in the 1970s.
The Newmans processed their sap from last season at Paul Bunyan Maple Camp near Rockwood, Pa., and then put all their efforts until now in rebuilding and furnishing the two-story camp with new equipment, including a new evaporator, RO and monitoring system.
This past summer, an Amish crew from Lebanon County, Pa., who were contracted through Somerset Structures, brought in the building in sections and put it together on site for several days. After that, the Newmans worked extensively in order to be ready for the upcoming season, which usually starts in February and March in Somerset County.
They removed floor section in order to build stacks to come out the roof from the evaporator and then the partitioned off areas for a utility room, RO room and cold storage room by using rough-cut pine lumber throughout the structure.
Mike Lynch, a CDL sales representative and Somerset County maple producer, was instrumental in the whole rebuilding process and the Newmas were appreciative of his knowledge and association with many members in the CDL community.
Lynch hosted the weekend CDL field day first at Black Bear Camp on Friday and then at his camp, Baer Brothers Maple in Somerset, on Saturday. He related afterwards that it was a successful event.
"The Newmas are great people to work with and know the agricultural roots behind a sugar operation," said Lynch. "They have put a lot of time and effort into rebuilding everything after the fire in February and now the new camp is expanded and more efficient."
Lynch explained that the new CDL 3 by 12-foot propane evaporator is state of the art and the new 20-plus CDL Reverse Osmosis (RO) removes 75 percent of the water content from the sap.
"This RO is built to go to a higher sugar content in one pass," he explained. "When we are done running through this RO, it will take about six gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup. We are taking 20 brixs in one pass and normally when we run it through, sap will go from 2 to 8 brixs so we are taking about 90 percent of the water from the sap before we cook it."
Roger Newman, a retired excavation business owner and milking equipment dealer, was only 16 years old when he had more than 6,000 taps in the Somerset area but as he grew into adulthood and worked various jobs, the maple business fell by the wayside. But, he always kept the idea to become a maple producer in the back of his mind.
"This has always been a dream of mine," concluded Roger. "We feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to do this, not once but twice."