For 20 years Ken and Michelle Workowski hauled buckets of tree sap down Vernon County's steep slopes in hopes of creating enough maple syrup to last them and their friends for the year.

With a little money and a lot of planning the couple modified their operation three years ago to avoid the back-breaking labor - they installed lines to each of their tapped trees to transport the sap down the valley for them. The couple also invested in the convenience of a bulk tank to collect all of the sap. They installed a water meter to let them know how much sap is dispersed into the cook pan over the modified wood stove outside their sugar shack. It's no longer a simple operation, but it's one that saves on hard labor.

With the sun looming behind gray clouds the sugar maple trees in the woods along Co. SS near Viola, Saturday, weren't producing any sap. But a rolling boil of sap collected during previous days' warmth wafted a sweet scent near the sugar shack where a crowd of 30 gathered to learn about the Workowskis' backyard maple syrup operation.

"Our system is probably more elaborate than you need it to be, but I've been making syrup for 23 years now and we've done it the hard way with inconveniences," Ken Workowski said.

Michelle Workowski