Glenn Heatwole was a dairy farmer in the Shenandoah Valley, but by the early 2000s, he was ready to get out of the dairy business. When the family discovered Highland County and Sugar Tree Country Store in McDowell, they were drawn to the rural area and lifestyle. They purchased the store and moved in 2004, knowing nothing about making maple syrup. Working with locals, they learned the ropes of maple production.
There aren’t many maple trees in McDowell, so while the Heatwoles do collect some sugar water from the few trees at the store and off Davis Run, they also rely on the water collected from sugar bushes on Monterey Mountain, the Blue Grass Valley, and Halterman Hollow. Back at the store, the sugar water is slowly turned into syrup – first with a reverse osmosis machine that concentrates the sugar water and then an evaporator, which heats and evaporates the liquid into syrup. A filter press at the end removes any remaining impurities.
Like many maple producers, Glenn remarks on the satisfaction of making maple syrup. “We love the outdoors. And to turn water from a tree into natural sugar that’s good for your body – that’s amazing” he says.
The Heatwoles grade their syrup so customers know exactly what they are getting, whether it be grade A (light, medium, or dark) or grade B, which with its stronger flavor, lends itself to cooking. In addition to syrup, the family makes maple candy, maple fudge and maple covered nuts in the back of the store. Locally produced honey and apple butter are also available at the store, as well a wide variety of wood crafts, rugs, pottery, and other handmade items.
(Photos by Kathy Cobb Photography)