Butler Hill Maple Farm is a maple producer from Tioaga County, Pennsylvania. A new tree planting effort will help protect local waterways connected to the Chesapeake Bay watershed. (Butler Hill Maple Farm)

In the northern reaches of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, there is a small farmer patiently awaiting the planting of 850 sugar maple trees he’ll never get to tap.

It takes 40 years for sugar maples to start producing syrup, and at the age of 54, Corrie Bacon doesn’t plan on reaping any financial benefits from his new trees. Instead, he sees the trees as an opportunity to give back to the Pennsylvania region he’s benefited from.

“Lord knows I have cut enough trees in my lifetime,” Bacon said, referring to the wood he’s burned and trees he’s removed on his property. “Now it’s time to give back to nature.”

Bacon is a military veteran and owner of Butler Hill Maple Farm in Tioga County. With a small river running through his property that connects to the Cowanesque River, a tributary of the Susquehanna River, Bacon qualified for the Keystone 10 Million Trees Partnership, an effort coordinated by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) that aims to plant 10 million new trees in priority landscapes in Pennsylvania by the end of 2025.

Through his farm, Bacon sells a variety of maple products, including syrups, maple sugar, maple cream and seasoning. The incoming sugar maples won’t be able to contribute to the farm’s sweet supply of products anytime soon, but they will start protecting local waterways immediately.

Like most other trees, sugar maples can act as buffers that filter runoff before it enters waterways, and also reduce air pollution by storing carbon dioxide. Tree roots and leaves also help improve soil health. And when trees are planted alongside streams, they help to cool the water and make conditions more suitable for marine life.

Bacon first heard of the tree planting program through the Pennsylvania Veteran Farming Project, a grassroots network of veterans, military members and spouses who farm and operate agribusinesses. According to Project Director Mimi Thomas-Brooker, the Pennsylvania Veteran Farming Project is working to connect multiple farmers in their network to the 10 Million Trees Partnership, making it easy for farmers to implement the best management practice on their property.

This is a welcome opportunity for people like Corrie Bacon, who already know a thing or two about trees. Pennsylvania is the fifth largest maple syrup producer in the U.S., with about 139,000 gallons per year from about 660,000 taps, and second in the watershed behind New York. Due to warmer temperatures brought on by climate change, maple trees are also migrating north and may eventually disappear from lower regions of the watershed, like Maryland and Virginia.

But for now, sugar maples and various other trees can be planted by landowners who want to become better stewards of the environment.

“We as humans have devastated the planet for centuries,” said Bacon. “It’s about time we start giving back to mother earth.”

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