Sweet Retreat

Michelle Sullivan

Malabar Farm near Mansfield might be better known for the maple syrup it produces each year than for its famous former owner, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and conservationist Louis Bromfield. Regardless, there's plenty to see and do in the 875-acre state park, especially during the annual Maple Syrup Festival, held the first two weekends in March. For anyone visiting this month, we created a jam-packed tour to make the most of a daylong trip to the farm. malabarfarm.org

(1) Begin with one (or all) of the park's mile-long trails, allowing extra time to explore the pit cave on Butternut Trail, suggests Sybil Burskey, program administrator for Malabar Farm State Park.

(2) The farm debuts its reverse-osmosis sugaring system at this year's festival, which runs March 1, 2, 8 and 9 from noon to 4 p.m. Watch as fresh maple sap is boiled and turned into syrup at the Sugar Shack.

(3) Enjoy a lunch of maple-glazed hot dogs, maple doughnuts and bean soup and some bluegrass music at Jim Pugh Cabin, where the opening scene of "The Shawshank Redemption" was filmed, before catching a horse-drawn wagon ride back to the main farm.

(4) Pugh Cabin is one of 14 northeast-Ohio filming locations that make up the official self-guided Shawshank Trail. Though the cabin and farmhouse are the only two sites on park property, the iconic oak tree is best viewed from the farm. Jodie Snavely, group tour media director for the Mansfield/Richland County Convention and Visitors Bureau, suggests spending at least a day driving the trail (shawshanktrail.com), which includes the historic Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield.

(5) Take a guided tour of the Big House, Bromfield's 32-room home, during festival hours to see original furnishings and the place where actors Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall married in 1945.

(6) Tour the Main Barn next to see the working farm's goats, chickens and cattle.

(7) Stop by the gift shop (open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.) for "everything maple," Burskey says, including syrup and fudge made on the farm.

(8) For dinner, try the Malabar Farm Restaurant, which serves local food, including beef from cows raised on the farm. Frozen cuts of this grass-fed beef are available for purchase in the gift shop.