April 1, 2011
Marathon continues tradition
Central New York Maple Festival rolls into town this weekend
MARATHON — Marathon Mayor John Pitman has been going to the Central New York Maple Festival since the event first started 41 years ago.
Pitman cannot remember many specifics of the first Maple Festival. He guesses he might have been in fourth or fifth grade when the event began.
“I just remember way more people turned out than they expected,” Pitman said. “That was a long time ago.”
Like Marathon’s schools and churches, the maple festival has become a local institution. For 41 years, the community event has drawn thousands to the small-town for maple samplings, food, games and crafts.
A few lifelong residents say they’ve enjoyed the Maple Festival since it first began. The event kicks off tonight with the crowning of the Maple Festival Queen, which this year has 33 contestants, and carries through the weekend.
Marathon resident Connie White has attended nearly all the Maple Festivals. She said over time the event has developed into “the lifeblood of the community,” raising money for schools, churches, libraries and other community groups.
She estimated about 1,000 people work together to make the event happen each year.
White said this year is looking like “typical Maple Festival weather,” which is notorious for being “a little iffy.”
“Everybody knows that you always bring your boots,” White said. “One of the days is not usually as pleasant as the other. But the weather doesn’t deter people.”
White said the Maple Festival is the “first opportunity to get out after being cooped up in the house all winter.”
“You can’t get anything more spring than the tapping of maple trees,” White said.
This year, Cortland Transit will run buses from the County Office Building to Marathon from 8 a.m. to 4:15 p.m on Saturday.
Citing the economic downturn, the New York, Susquehanna & Western Railway has eliminated its train runs, which took passengers from Cortland, Binghamton and Syracuse to the Maple Festival in past years. The train was last run to the festival in 2009.
Pitman said Maple Festival has become a social event, where people reconnect with acquaintances they might not see throughout the year.
He said over the years the event has grown larger, with more food vendors, organizations and activities.
“The main thing is that everyone involved works together,” said Wayne Fox, the chairman of the first Maple Festival . “It brings people together.”
Board of Education President Floyd Parker said his father, Clifton, was one of the founders of the event.
Parker, who is also the village’s street superintendent, said the first Maple Festival was tough because the attendance for the event exceeded the event organizers’ expectations.
He said his mother and others spent the first night of the two-day event cooking because there wasn’t enough food for the Methodist Church’s chicken barbecue.
The event has become more organized since that first event, Parker said.
Parker has always enjoyed the Maple Festival, which he said has become a Marathon tradition.
“I don’t think my dad and the others who started this so many years ago thought that it would still be going today, “ Parker said. “It has and it’s still going strong.”
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