Weather helps draw huge crowd to festival again
There was gorgeous weather for the 48th Annual Maple Leaf Festival which once again brought thousands to Baldwin City -- even if the famed maple leaves didn't cooperate.
"I think attendance was about normal," said Baldwin Fire Chief Allen Craig. "But, that's just judging from the parade crowd. What I'm hearing from the county guys (Douglas County Sheriff's deputies) is the traffic is up. There were more people coming in. So, maybe there were more people.
"It's just a gorgeous day," Craig said Saturday. "That always helps."
If it was a "normal" Maple Leaf crowd, that's estimated at 30,000. Of course, the peak is always around the Saturday parade and that was no exception this year. The streets were packed -- behind that magic yellow tape line -- for the parade that lasted just over an hour.
From there, the festival becomes a moving target, with different people going to various offerings. A lot of those go for the hundreds of craft booths, most head toward one of the food booths -- where lines were unusually long this year -- and others take in activities such as music tents, the petting zoo and other fun at the Kids Zone and a new favorite this year -- the rock climbing exhibit put on by the Army.
Wherever they went, they had fun. And, that's all 30,00 of them.
"Our best estimate right now is that the crowd was up slightly from last year," said Nancy Crisp, chairman of the Maple Leaf Festival committee. "Judging from the vendors who were scraping to find $1 bills on Saturday afternoon and the food booths that ran out of supplies, we had one successful festival.
"None of the vendors I spoke with at the end of the day Sunday were unhappy -- they were all eager to come back next year," Crisp said. "One vendor told me he goes to nearly 50 festivals a year and this is one of his favorites. He said our volunteers just make it easy for the vendors by bringing in so many people and having such a well-organized event."
As for the maples not being in full fall color, no one seemed to mind. Everyone interviewed by the Signal had the same answer to the question of the weekend. Does it matter that the maple leaves haven't changed color?
"No, not really," said Eleanor Brown, of Leawood, who then cited the whole speel about the third weekend of October being the peak time for maple tree colors. "I would rather have the beautiful day. It's pretty now. Life is all about timing.
"We had just heard about it (the festival) for years," said Brown. "I had no idea it was so enormous. There is so much to do. What a beautiful day.
Brown and her husband, Larry, met up with his brother, Jerry, who had just come from Livingston, Texas, but calls Salt Lake City home.
"We're full-time RVers," said Jerry Brown. "This is really something."
The Lawrence contingent that always is a big part of the festival had the same feeling.
"We noticed that they (leaves) are not at their peak yet," said Connie Meyer, Lawrence. "But, it's still fun to come and enjoy the sights and sounds. We come each year and we have some family in town from Colorado Springs. It's just fun to come and enjoy the colors, weather and sights."
And, for that "official" answer on why the leaves didn't do their thing.
"I did notice a couple of trees around finally made it -- the one at Sixth and Chapel probably being the best," said Roger Boyd, Ph.D., Baker University biology professor whose dad, Ivan, is credited with coming up with the idea for celebrating the maples. "I think that nighttime temperatures stayed too high to trigger the breakdown of Chlorophyll and the production of the red pigment, Anthocyanin.
"Daytime highs probably weren't the problem as much as it didn't cool off enough at night," said Boyd. "This week will probably end up being gorgeous for the trees unless we get some hot, dry wind out of the south. We have missed the peak several years in a row, but as far as the average goes -- we are better off staying with the third weekend. There are still enough trees around to let people know what it will look like in a few days. If they want to experience it 'completely,' they may have to move here."
There weren't any major problems at this year's festival, according to Police Chief Mike McKenna.
"I think there were little if any problems with police items," said McKenna. "We felt it was a little bigger (crowd) than usual Saturday. But, there were no problems. People were here to have a good time and shop and they did. We only issued about 35 parking tickets. We had some other violations for riding ATVs. But, for the most part, it went off without problems from our standpoint."