ST. ALBANS, Vt. – One Vermont maple syrup maker's season isn't so sweet after 140 of his sap-collecting buckets were stolen off maple trees.
The thief or thieves struck twice at two different spots along a road in the northwestern part of the state, making off with the steel buckets, according to Fred Hopkins, of St. Albans.
The first time, there was no sap flowing yet, but the second time the perpetrators dumped out the liquid. All that was left behind was the clear, frozen sap on the ground.
"We kind of think it's someone who needed extra buckets because they're not worth anything in the junkyard," said Hopkins, 70, who says they can be had for between $1 and $10.
After hearing media reports about the heists, a couple in a nearby town offered to lend Hopkins steel buckets. They stopped by earlier this week, along with the police officer investigating the crime, to help Hopkins install 45 buckets.
St. Albans Police Cpl. Keith McMahon said he hears of things being stolen all the time, including lawn equipment and even farm equipment, but never sap buckets and twice at that.
"It didn't sit well with me to begin with," he said Thursday, "but it made it even worse" that the theft happened twice.
Hopkins and his wife Maureen Lake have also heard from the county maple syrup makers association, a maple equipment dealer and another maple syrup maker offering help. Vermont is the country's largest producer of maple syrup.
After putting up his buckets on maple trees around a local cemetery, he went to check on them a day later because it had been windy. They were gone when he arrived.
Hopkins, who makes maple syrup as a hobby and gives much of it away, bought another 100 buckets from someone who had extras. He then installed solar lights and game cameras to keep the thief away or catch the person in the act.
Nine days later, the thief or thieves struck again at a different site that he had not rigged with game cameras.
Hopkins expects to give away or sell the sap he collects this year rather than boil it into syrup given what's happened and the late start to the season compared to recent years.
"This year's kind of a wash for me right now," he said.