Kyle Hillegas chosen as new maple king
Kyle Hillegas, 34, owner of Hillegas Sugar Camp in Fairhope, won the Pennsylvania Maple King title for the first time after a competition at the Sugar Shack in Maple Festival Park on Friday.
The contest is part of the Pennsylvania Maple Festival in Meyersdale, which runs Saturday and Sunday and Wednesday through April 7. Jason Blocher, owner of Milroy Farms near Salisbury, was last year’s king.
Brandon Hosselrode, 28, of Southampton Township, won champion syrup at the same competition on Friday.
Bob Hansen, a retired Penn State Extension educator from Bradford County, with his wife, Roberta, judged the competition.
Hillegas has been producing maple syrup since he was 8 years old and was primarily self-taught, describing himself as a “backyarder” in those early years. He now has modern equipment in a new camp built in 2010 in Allegheny Township.
The son of Russ and Jeanne (Paul) Hillegas, Kyle is now a major maple producer in Somerset County and treasurer of the Somerset County Maple Producers Association.
His family had dabbled in maple production, but mostly owned and operated a beef farm before Kyle changed the outlook of his farm.
A 2003 graduate of Berlin Brothersvalley High School, Kyle went on to get a degree in masonry from Penn College in Williamsport in 2005. But he decided to take a job on the Pennsylvania Turnpike and now works there full-time in maintenance.
His parents and grandparents helped build the first sugar camp in the wooded area of their farm. In those early years, both Kyle and his older brother, Brandon, helped with all aspects of the sugar business. Now Brandon lives in Somerset and works full-time with M&T Bank in Cumberland, Maryland, but still helps in his spare time.
Kyle’s father, who retired from the Pennsylvania Turnpike, does most of the gathering in sugar season, while Kyle does the boiling and woodwork.
When Kyle built a new camp in 2010, his operation was at about 2,500 taps, but now there are about 9,400 taps on their home farm and rented trees in Allegheny, Northampton and Juniata (Bedford County) townships.
In 2016 Kyle married the former Rebecca Emert, and they and their children, Syrus Witt, 9, and their newborn, Brennen Hillegas, are a part of the operation. Rebecca says she is learning every day about how to make maple products. They make syrup and other unique products, such as maple peanut butter, maple-coated nuts, maple barbecue sauce and maple mustard.
The Hosselrode family, of Southampton Township, earned the Champion Syrup Award from the same competition.
Brandon Hosselrode served as maple king in 2015 and works alongside his parents, Marvin and Thea, and younger brother, Jeffrey.
Back in 2008, as his senior project at Meyersdale Area High School, Brandon developed a maple sugar camp and kept growing the business.
He earned a forestry degree at Allegany College of Maryland in Cumberland, where his mother also teaches business classes. He earned his bachelor’s degree in forestry from West Virginia University in 2012.
Now he works as a forestry technician for the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.