Festival has rich history, benefits entire community
As the Maple Leaf Festival nears its 50th anniversary year, its history is being examined and its amazing growth is, too.
The festival started 49 years ago and has grown year by year to the point where an estimated 30,000 people flock to Baldwin City on the third full weekend of October. Sandy Cardens, a member of the Maple Leaf Festival committee, recalls that early start.
"The Maple Leaf Festival started in 1958 and began as a community event inspired by Dr. Ivan Boyd, a biology professor at Baker University," said Cardens. "He noted that the third weekend in October was the optimum time to view the changing colors of the maple leaves in the area and the perfect time to celebrate the successful harvest.
"Almost 50 years later, with more than 300 craft exhibits, a quilt show, performing arts, music, unique food items and activities for the family, the Maple Leaf Festival is now the biggest fall family event in the area and provides an opportunity for local non-profit organizations to raise funds for their organizations," she said.
But, why the maple leaf? Baldwin City has an abundance of maple trees, which are well known for their brilliant fall colors. Legend has it that bundles of maple trees headed for somewhere in the country somehow wound up unclaimed at the Baldwin Depot. The trees were distributed among the residents, they were planted and these many years later that "extra" amount of maples along with naturally occurring maples and new maple trees planted every year have combined for the wealth of trees.
It's always up to Mother Nature whether the trees will be in full color when the festival rolls around. Most years, they are. Some years, such as last year, they are just beginning to change. This year looks to be right on the money, but the leaves are falling off faster than normal.
But, it's also well known that not many people come to the festival for the leaves. It's the vast array of activities -- especially the craft booths and parade -- that draw the crowds.
"Wow, it has grown," said Annie France, another member of the MLF committee. "It's a very dynamic festival. You can see that in what is offered every year."
Those events and listings of booths, etc., can be found throughout this year's Maple Leaf Festival special section. It's a hectic weekend, especially for those who live here, but it benefits the community greatly and has a strong history of that.
"I think that we need to educate more about what MLF is all about," said France. "Most people see us as a festival that just messes up their parking and maneuvering in Baldwin for a couple of days. And, I realize it can be frustrating, but I would hope they'd find it worthwhile considering all that the MLF does for the community.
"I think a lot of people don't realize that we take the money and put it right back in the community," she said. "We have our scholarships, we donate funds to non-profits, we help purchase equipment and materials for our schools, we enhance our community with purchases that benefit the city and the surrounding areas."
As part of the education process, the committee is trying something new this year.
"I wonder -- and we're doing a survey to find out -- how many people within Baldwin understand what the purpose of the MLF is," said France. "Besides just having a beautiful festival on a gorgeous day in October in a quaint little Kansas town, we enrich the lives of those in our community."