Archive for Thursday, October 25, 2007

Maple Leaf’s 50th was golden affair

October 25, 2007

Mother Nature smiled on the 50th anniversary of the Maple Leaf Festival -- at least weather wise. The maple leaves weren't at full color, but a record crowd didn't seem to mind. The festival was golden.

"It was a great festival," said Donna Curran, chairman of the Maple Leaf Festival committee. "The weather was good -- sometimes too windy, but all in all a wonderful weekend.

"I think that it was the biggest ever," said Curran. "After the parade, the crowd just kept coming and coming down Sixth Street. It was an unbelievable sight."

Crowd estimates over the years have grown to 30,000 to 40,000 people during the two-day event. Indications are at least that many showed up for the celebration of half a century of family fun. Heather Lusky, committee public relations chair, put the number at the high end for attendance.

"The consensus seems to be that this was the best Maple Leaf Festival yet," said Lusky. "Record-breaking crowds pushing 40,000 feasted on fabulous food and cashed in on the cache of creative crafts."

In addition to plenty of people, the vast majority were pleased with this year's festival, unlike last year's when rain dampened attendance and spirits.

"It had to be the largest crowd we've had during my experience here," said Sandy Cardens, another member of he committee. "We heard over and over how terrific it all was from vendors and visitors, too. Any negative comments -- and there are always some -- were outnumbered 100 to 1 by positives.

"People overwhelmingly liked having the booths in the center of the street on High, the music venue in the Lumberyard Arts Center and the recorded 1950s music. Our emcee, Marion Constantinescu, was praised over and over again.

Vendor splendor

Although the number of vendors at various food and craft booths was down slightly from a year ago, they more than made up for the shortfall. Unlike last year when it rained, sellouts were common.

"The comments I heard from vendors were great," said Curran. "Many sold out or came close. Of course, there was the wind, but vendors worked together to help each other out and, of course, the booth committee gave help in anyway they could. They worked very hard to put on such a great event."

Ah, that weather again.

"Oh, yes, wind is good any day, compared to wet," said Cardens, who is booth co-chair, adding that while difficult, it was dealt with. "The wind was a huge problem for vendors who were looking for everything they could find to hold down their tents. The cheesecake people had theirs just crushed and left it there crumpled all day Sunday until they could get a car back through the barricades to pack up the pieces."

Aside from the wind, though, the addition of booth space and other items -- mostly strong sales -- left the vendors smiling as they packed up and left Sunday afternoon.

"A lot of vendors and shoppers informed me that they loved the booths in the middle of the street," said Curran. "Of course, it was a learning experience this year by the way of traffic. I am sure that the booth committee will evaluate it for next year."

They'll also evaluate comments such as those by Melissa Cavallari, a vendor who attended her first Maple Leaf.

"The organization was super, everyone was really nice and the town is really beautiful," said Cavallari. "All in all, I had a wonderful experience. Baldwin City is awesome."

Volunteers shine

An event the magnitude of the Maple Leaf Festival, where 40,000 people show up for the hospitality shown from Baldwin City's 3,800-plus, can't happen without volunteers to man every booth, barricade and everything in between.

"I cannot imagine the number of volunteers it takes to put this all together," said Cardens. "We have not only the festival committee volunteers who spend hours and hours all year around and nearly whole days on the week before the festival and all day Saturday and Sunday -- starting at 5 or 6 a.m. -- but also the members of nearly every organization in town.

"They pour everything into this weekend to make it happy and successful for visitors and vendors alike," she said. "I'm impressed that we had children as young as 6 or 7 helping with this effort. The booth committee had a 7-year-old volunteer who stamped our envelopes for a vendor mailing at one of our meetings. We had some very young ones who helped chalk the booth numbers on the streets on Thursday and Friday. Their knees and backs are much more capable of handling the job."

And, there was even some "outside" help this year.

"I would also like to mention what a great job was done by the Wellsville Firefighters who manned many of the barricades," said Cardens. "They stepped up when the Baldwin City volunteers advised the committee that they couldn't do it. We were fortunate to get such a good group on fairly short notice."

Others do, too

As always, it wasn't only the volunteers that made the festival what it is. City crews, from top to bottom, again played a major role, especially in getting everything set up.

"Bill Winegar, director of public works, and Chris Croucher, lead lineman in the Baldwin City Public Works department, along with their crew went above and beyond in the help they provided to the Maple Leaf Festival booth committee," said Cardens. "They were exceptionally cooperative and could not have been more accommodating."

There was similar praise for the police department.

"The same is true of Chief Mike McKenna, along with the officers of the Baldwin City Police Department and the assistance they gave us throughout this past week and weekend," she said. "They truly showed us what protect and serve means. We had anticipated some problems with the dog ban, with cars illegally parked in booth spaces and other similar problems. They handled every one of them with total professionalism."

And, it didn't end there for the city crews. Come Monday, they were picking up the barricades, taking down the banner and all the other items they'd put up the week before.

Changes work

For the 50th celebration, there were several new features for the festival, including the first-ever fireworks display Friday evening to kick off the event.

"Everyone that I asked about the fireworks loved it," said Curran. "I thought we had a good crowd with the away football game. I have heard that many did not hear about them. That's something to work on."

Lusky, the PR person, noted the challenges the festival faced.

"Downtown reconstruction, highway detours, special events at Baker and a newly enacted animal ordinance were a few of the challenges facing us this year," said Lusky. "But, the coordinated efforts of the Maple Leaf committee, Baker University, chamber of commerce, City Hall, our police and fire departments and the Kansas Department of Transportation really paid off in contributing to a well-organized and well-managed event. And, let's not fail to mention the cooperation, support and community spirit of our citizens."

The changes also resulted in comments made to Lusky.

"The flow was much improved this year with the rearrangement of booths, relocation of the Kids Zone and petting zoo and re-routing of the parade," she said.

The 50th Maple Leaf was considered a success for many reasons. But, now it's already on to No. 51.

"We would love any feed back to make next year even better," said Curran. "We meet the first Thursday of the month at 7 p.m. at the Baldwin City Public Library. Everyone is welcome to come and be a part of the committee. We are always looking for volunteers."

Enjoy the leaves now

The glorious colors of the festival's namesake maple trees weren't in full color this year. Several trees around town had started to turn, but not many and not quite enough. But, that won't last long.

This time, Baldwin City residents can enjoy the colors in their full splendor ... while licking their wounds from yet another festival completed.

"Being wet will help the leaves stay on long enough to turn color this week, especially with the cold we had Monday night," said Roger Boyd, Ph.D., a long-time biologist whose dad, Ivan Boyd, was one of the founders of the festival. "Trees on the south side of Oakwood Cemetery are just turning now and will be peak color Wednesday or Thursday."

Enjoy.

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