Film Review: Tapping Maple Ridge

Film Review: Tapping Maple Ridge

ByGroovy Green Nov 13, 2006

The new film, Tapping Maple Ridge , cleverly examines the parallels between maple syrup and wind energy. Why this is even applicable in the first place lies in the film’s setting of Lewis County, NY; the largest producer of maple syrup in NY and the site of the largest wind farm east of the Mississippi at Maple Ridge . Here’s an excerpt from their site,

“Tapping Maple Ridge is a meditation on the unexpected parallels between wind energy and maple syrup production. Shot on High-Definition video, the film illustrates the visual and conceptual correspondences between the sugar bush (a stand of maple trees tapped for syrup) and the wind farm. Interviews with maple syrup producers, Tug Hill landowners, Lewis County residents, and wind energy developers reinforce and elaborate on those relationships.”
And indeed, the film does a remarkable job at showing how a community such as Lewis County uses the nature around it to maximum effect. This is not your average wind energy doc. The producers skillfully not only keep the two topics interesting, but actually allow you to enjoy the effort. The music, the flow of the story, the people, and the images all come together to form a beautiful story. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that the film was funded by PPM Energy and Horizon Wind Energy; the two partners in the Maple Ridge Wind Farm. You’re not going to hear the ‘other side’ of the wind energy debate here.

In a way, it’s kind of nice to leave the arguments behind for a moment and simply focus on the marvels of harvesting renewable natural resources. In the beginning of the film, we’re introduced to maple syrup; how it’s tapped, its production, and history. We see the advances in efficiency over the years; and hear the stories of those directly involved. In fact, based on the first 10-15 minutes, it would be easy to mistake the film on being about nothing but syrup. Eventually, however, we slowly start to see images of turbines being installed and the next natural resource of Lewis County coming of age. This setup creates a gradual introduction to wind power that draws striking parallels to maple syrup production. It’s a surprising new angle on the entire debate and the ‘back-and-forth’ between the two industries is engaging as a plotline.

It was at this point that I really began to marvel over the imagery in this film. The entire thing was shot in HDTV — which doesn’t translate onto my TV — but definitely showed in the quality of the image on-screen. The colors just bounce off this disc. Additionally, the video they have of these wind farms being installed is absolutely priceless. It’s amazing to watch these massive cranes lift these gigantic turbines into place. You also get to witness the construction of the foundation, which requires a tremendous amount of support to anchor to the ground. When I visited Maple Ridge back in March, the bases of the turbines we visited had already been covered up with dirt. I wonder no more what lies beneath.

As with any pro-wind film, you also get to hear the stories of people whose lives have been changed by such projects. It goes without saying that the PILOT (Payment In Lieu of Taxes) program at Maple Ridge has been a great success for the communities involved. Millions of dollars has poured into towns that have seen their fair share of depressed economic periods. The farmers, whose land has been leased by the wind companies, are also heavily featured and quick to point out their new prosperity. Most are simply thankful that Lewis County can now benefit from the wind that has plagued their winters for so long.

At one point, the film describes how maple syrup started out simply by tapping trees and hanging buckets. The process is effective, but not nearly as efficient as the tube systems that now run through the woods directly into the sugar houses. We’re then transitioned to the wind farm and a comment about how wind power is growing in efficiency and how soon less turbines will be needed to sustain even more homes. It’s an interesting parallel. Sadly, until Americans learn how to conserve energy first, I personally believe we’ll see more turbines reach into the skies before we see less. If there’s one thing new about wind I can pull from the video, however, it’s that the replacement of these machines seems relatively easy. I’m basing my opinion on a few seconds of installation video, but it appears that installing a future, more efficient turbine is matter of lifting a new blade or support into place and bolting it to the base. I’m sure there are many more logistics than that, but as some in the film commented, “It doesn’t appear that wind farms will leave Lewis County anytime soon.”

Overall, I throughly enjoyed Tapping Maple Ridge. It tells a remarkable story of sustainability across two different industries and highlights our abilities to harness nature. It’s educational (40 gallons of tree sap to make 1 gallon of pure maple syrup!), it’s beautiful, and it’s worth your time to experience.