TALKEETNA -- At first glance, the setup at Kahiltna Birchworks seems like something out of a sci-fi movie. There are thousands of white 5-gallon buckets hanging off of trees, all filled with a clear, watery liquid that slowly oozes out the white birch trees to which they're connected. If there's not a bucket, there's a translucent blue tube attached and wrapped around the tree, some connected with a maze of wires. That same clear liquid gurgles and bubbles through the tubes toward a central collection point, a small, plywood building housing a gently humming diesel engine that sucks the liquid out and into a nearby 2,500-gallon collection drum.
Other areas of these woods have well-marked trails with names like "Yellow Brick Road" for the "sap suckers," a group of five people who wander through the boreal forest just off of the Parks Highway, north of the Talkeetna Spur Road. Each sap sucker has 850 trees apiece, each tree producing just under a gallon of sap a day, and they run through the woods, collecting hundreds of gallons sap to boil down into the "Kahiltna Gold" birch syrup.