Festival evolution has done much for city
For 48 years, people have streamed into Baldwin City for the annual Maple Leaf Festival. It's grown steadily over the years and is now known as a two-day party for 30,000 of Baldwin's closest friends.
When non-Baldwin residents are asked about the city, the Maple Leaf Festival is what most recall, with Baker University a close second. For Baldwin residents, the festival has become a cornerstone of the community.
Every year, the Maple Leaf Festival proves to be the draw that brings new residents to town. Such is the case for Ken and Diane Wagner, who moved here in the late 1990s and have become two staunch community involved persons. Diane has served on the Maple Leaf Committee for several years and recalls the couple's first taste of the festival back in 1997.
"Ken and I were in town from Michigan trying to decide if we were going to move our family to Lawrence, Olathe or Baldwin City," Wagner said. "We knew the business would be in Baldwin City, but I was still pretty skeptical of moving the family to such a small community. I grew up in the city and couldn't imagine living in a community the size of Baldwin City."
But, during the third weekend of October -- when the festival always takes place -- the Wagners were here.
"I knew nothing about the Maple Leaf Festival or it's traditions," said Wagner. "We decided to attend to see what it was all about. It was a beautiful, perfect fall day. I fell in love with the small town 'Americana' feel that the festival and the parade brought to Baldwin City. Everyone was so friendly and welcoming.
"I remember thinking that this community has to be something special to stage an event like this year after year," she said. "I was really impressed how many community groups had booths or were some way involved in the festival. When I would mention that my family was considering moving to Baldwin City, we were met with a very warm and enthusiastic reception. I think it was that weekend that 'sealed the deal' in my mind that our family could and would be very happy in the Baldwin community."
Maple Leaf Committee Chairman Nancy Crist says the goal behind the festival has remained throughout the almost 50 years. It's about attracting people to Baldwin City, but it's also about the city itself.
"Our mission as an organization is to promote the Baldwin community and its history," said Crisp. "It gets harder to continue to do that. Most of the other festivals don't do that anymore.
"We try to provide a variety of activities so that people of Baldwin can enjoy them," she said. "We really exist for Baldwin. We're all about promoting Baldwin and its history. We exist as a non-profit group. We are trying to help civic organizations and other non-profit groups as a venue to raise funds."
As for the visitors, it's about Baldwin's generosity.
"We share what's great here as a community," said Crisp, "and the Maple tree leaves."
For committee member Sandy Cardens, the festival is an important part of the community, which is often not understood.
"The Maple Leaf Festival isn't only a big two-day party, it is one of the greatest resources of funding for community groups and for young people that Baldwin City has, and may be underappreciated," said Cardens. "I know most of the visitors to the festival don't realize that the money made by the event is funneled back into the community, but we want to be sure our community members realize it."
And, how did the whole thing start? The city was wanting to promote itself. The late Ivan Boyd, a Baker University professor, noted that the city had an abundance of Maple trees and that they were at their colorful best in mid October. So, the idea for the Maple Leaf Festival was hatched.
But, why were there so many Maple trees? The story is told that a bundle of Maple trees was left at the train depot with no label in the early 1900s. The trees were distributed around town and planted. Many years later, the Boy Scout troop sold around 200 sugar maple seedlings every year as a fundraiser. Those were planted and Baldwin City's "forest" of maple trees grew.
Roger Boyd, Ivan's son and also a biology professor at Baker, is on the newly formed Baldwin Tree Board. According to a survey conducted by them, the right-of-ways in Baldwin contain 835 maple trees, which is roughly 16 percent of the trees in those areas. Plus, there are hundreds of other maple trees on private property.
"The town is just thick with them," said Cardens. "If Mother Nature cooperates with us, they are at their peak, and the town is just gorgeous."
It takes the right blend of weather, moisture, length of days, etc., for the colorful display to be at its peak for the Maple Leaf Festival. But, most years it is.