Pennsylvania is, for my money, the most beautiful state east of the Mississippi, as I was reminded again during a recent two-day trip that took me to State College, home of the Nittany Lions.  Driving through that landscape of mountains and forests, down those roads with diners, churches, houses going back to the days before the Civil War and in some cases before the Revolution, always lifts my spirits.
One of Pennsylvania’s most charming areas is York County. Its main community, the town of York, is full of history – it was the home of the Continental Congress at the time the Articles Of Confederation were drafted and adopted there in 1777, and to this day York lays claim to being the first capital of the United States on that basis.

The surrounding countryside has many beauties, and one of its leading ornaments is a park, dedicated in 1968 and named for the newly elected thirty-seventh President.  Richard Nixon had strong personal ties to York County – his parents lived in the village of Menges Mills there in the late 1940s and 1950s, and his younger brother Edward finished high school in the area. Since President Nixon is well-remembered for his keen interest in nature and his far-sighted environmental policies, it is fitting that Richard M. Nixon County Park honors his memory.

The park has a 14,000 square foot Nature Center, which features specimens of local wildlife, exhibits showing the flora and fauna of other lands, and has a room for children’s activities.

Last month at the Nature Center and at surrounding maple trees, the local youngsters learned the age-old art of maple-sugar and syrup making, as described in Lauren McLane’s article in the York Daily Record.

This process, of course, is most closely associated with the state of Vermont. But as anyone who has spent time in Pennsylvania in February can tell you, the Keystone State can get nearly as chilly as Vermont when the wind comes barreling down from the mountains.  So the weather was more than conducive to several demonstrations of how to boil maple sap.

The children present were shown the traditional Native American way of boiling, involving hollowed-out logs and heated rocks placed in the sap, and the more familiar method of tapping a tree, developed by the colonists over generations.  The demonstration finished, naturally, with the tasting of pancakes with fresh-made maple syrup.

The article includes some useful recipes for such delicacies as maple apple pie, maple cheesecake, maple muffins, and, just to show that maple products aren’t limited to dessert, maple-glazed chicken.  All in all, these youngsters in York County learned a lesson in American history, and about nature in North America, of the kind that President Nixon, who visited this park and cherished the honor of its bearing his name, would have greatly valued.