Rain dampens 49th festival
"Don't rain on my parade" is how the song goes, but an additional line this year would be "or the Maple Leaf Festival."
But, that's what happened. A steady rain most of the day Saturday, coupled with cold temperatures, dramatically cut attendance and fun at the 49th version of the fall classic. Some are calling it a disaster.
"Yes, it was," said Police Chief Mike McKenna. "You can't control the weather. You have to live with what you get. Saturday was one of those days where you have to wait it out."
With the election year, it was expected that the festival parade would be one of the longest ever. That didn't happen. The politicians were in full force, but there were plenty of no-shows, said Sherri Caldwell, parade chairperson. However, the new route with a turn north on Sixth Street instead of Eighth Street didn't cause any major problems.
"Actually, it went very well for a new route and the rain," Caldwell said. "We probably had 30 percent not show up. Six bands didn't show up. They didn't want to ruin their instruments. That didn't surprise me. Half of the animals didn't show up. A lot of the antique cars didn't show.
"All in all, we had a good parade," she said.
It wasn't any better for the 300-plus craft and food booths. Many estimates showed that only 10 percent of normal business was done in the food booths Saturday. Similar numbers occurred with the craft booths, but Sandy Cardens, Maple Leaf Festival booth co-chair, said that goes with the territory.
"It is a lot like farming, at least for the vendors, but they do outdoor festivals all the time, so washouts are not big news for them, although I know it hurts their bottom line," said Cardens. "Sunday started cold, but we were all dry, so it turned out to be a glorious day and we were ecstatic."
She also was appreciative of all the volunteers who battled the cold, wind and rain Saturday to stay with such chores as manning barricades, emptying trash, etc., etc.
"We are all so grateful for those volunteers who stuck with it Saturday, although they were soaked to the skin," said Cardens. "It couldn't happen without them."
Fellow co-chair Diane Wagner echoed Cardens' appreciation to the volunteers in what turned out to be a strange festival.
"I was just one of many who were totally worn out by this year's festival," said Wagner. "Aside from the obvious, this was just a weird festival. We had several things happen that just aren't the norm for the Maple Leaf."
That included an incident where a 7-year-old Lawrence girl was bitten by a Shepard/Labrador mix dog at 2 p.m. Sunday at Sixth and High streets. The girl was taken to Lawrence Memorial Hospital where she had to have 30 stitches to close wounds on her arm and face. The girl's parents had asked the dog's owner for permission to pet the dog. Something went wrong and the dog attacked the child, said McKenna.
"That was the only thing that stained Maple Leaf for us," he said. "It was terrible that that little girl was injured like that."
The dog was taken to a local veterinary clinic for observation. The dog's owner, who is from Baldwin, faces possible citations, said McKenna. The incident has also sparked talk of banning dogs from attending future festivals.
Wagner, who was the first to respond to the incident, said it and other items were handled well.
"All in all, I think it was handled pretty well by everyone involved," she said. "I think a big thank you needs to go out to the city and particularly the police department who were called upon for a lot of different things that we weren't expecting. They were great and I have nothing but good things to say about them."
McKenna thought the festival went smooth, with the exception of the dog bite. Part of that is attributed to smaller crowds.
"Yes, it went well for us," he said. "From our vantage point, it went pretty well in the respect that there were a lot fewer people to try and control in parking and other problems with big crowds.
"Of course, the people who come to the Maple Leaf Festival are peaceful and family oriented," said McKenna. "They aren't coming here to be riotous or to get terribly drunk. It's not like it's a concert."
The other hopeful thought that resulted from the nasty weather and low attendance is that those conditions hadn't happened in years and maybe they're out of the way for next year's 50th anniversary.
"Exactly," said Caldwell. "I had a lot of great cooperation from everyone -- except for the cold and wet. It will be better next year with the 50th anniversary for the Maple Leaf Festival and the 150th anniversary of Baker University. We will have lots of special things next year."