March 30, 2009
Maple Fest attracts thousands
Organizers say weekend attendance figures among annual festival’s highest
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Genesis Delavan, 7, left, and Michaela Deleavan, 7, look out the window of the Maple Museum at the large line of people waiting to get inside Saturday during the 39th annual Central New York Maple Festival.
MARATHON — The first thing Vincent Swinnich did when he arrived at the Central New York Maple Festival on Saturday morning was eat fried dough.
Sitting in the sunshine outside Marathon High School, Vincent, 6, of Homer was accompanied by his mother, Janet, on his second trip to the annual event.
Vincent said his favorite part of the festival was watching Mark Watson, a wood sculptor, carve animals out of tree stumps with a chainsaw.
The 39th annual festival drew in at least 20,000 people over two-and-a-half days, said Connie White, festival entertainment chair.
“It’s one of our best years,” White said.
Marathon High School student Jacki Cross, 16, was crowned Maple Festival Queen Friday during a pageant in the high school auditorium.
Saturday, the annual pancake eating contest was held inside the high school auditorium. Nine people had 15 minutes to eat as many pancakes as possible. The contest, which benefited various charities, is in its 12th year.
Nick Mills, a snowboard instructor at Greek Peak, won the contest after eating 17 pancakes. Mills, who participated to raise money on behalf of Wendy Thibeault, raised $1,580.
Thibeault was murdered in May at her Cortlandville home. Her estranged husband, Charles “Randy” Thibeault Sr., was convicted of the crime earlier this month.
“She was on my mind,” Mills said after winning the contest. He said this year was his first visit to the Maple Festival. “I didn’t think I would win, that was a big feat for myself.”
Mills said he practiced for the contest several times in recent weeks and ate as many as 10 pancakes. He solicited $10 per pancake after Greek Peak employees had already raised $1,376.
Joe LaRue, 48, of Florida, chose not to defend his seven consecutive pancake eating contest championships. He ate 26 pancakes last year, after setting a record for the contest of 33 pancakes.
LaRue flew from Florida Saturday to help judge the contest.
“I wanted to give somebody else a chance,” LaRue said. “The participants this year did a great job but they’re amateurs so the number (of pancakes) they ate is not as high.”
Dozens of local vendors displayed goods and put on displays including syrup-making and wood-cutting.
Ruth Esther of Cincinnatus, along with family members, handed out maple-flavored treats from inside the Maple Museum. Esther is the fourth generation of her family farm, which produces maple syrup and other maple products.
Behind a safety net and covered in sawdust was Mark Watson, a Brooktondale native, who carved animals from wood stumps with a chainsaw.
A bear, fish and various species of birds were on display, all of which carved and sculpted out of various types of wood.
He spent about two hours Saturday morning carving an eagle perched on a wood stump. Using a small chainsaw, Watson etched in the facial features of the bird and carved in the feather patterns.
Watson said he spent eight years practicing before he got a bear to “look right.” He said he regards the chainsaw as no different than any other art tool.
“You just start with pictures and try to copy what you see,” Watson said of his technique.
Watson, who operates a private home improvement business in Spencer, has spent 12 years perfecting the wood sculpting. He sends his creations of various animals to county fairs around the state to be auctioned.
Watson, 35, said his father and grandfather built barns and did woodworking and the habit caught on at an early age. He combined his love for art with the hobby of sculpting and building with wood.
“Some kids get a Nintendo for Christmas, but I would get chisels,” Watson said. “I would always go out into the woods as a kid.”
This year was Watson’s second year at the Maple Festival. He was doing a demonstration in 2008 at Greek Peak when Wendy Thibeault approached him to attend the Maple Festival.
“I had been trying to get in the door to the festival for a while,” he said. “I was glad to be invited.”
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