April 7, 2008


Maple Festival benefits local groups

Organizations depend on fundraising at celebration

Maple Fest

Bob Ellis/staff photographer   
Bret Hartman, right, flips pancakes while Paul Lagana pours batter onto the circular grill during the Maple Festival on Saturday. 

Staff Reporter

MARATHON — For 38 years Wayne Fox has helped organize the Central New York Maple Festival.
The festival, which first began in 1971, has grown not only in size, but in the way it supports the Marathon community, Fox said.
“The first year, there were maybe 15 people on the committee. Now there are 40 to 50; it’s just got bigger,” said Fox, 66. “A lot of people keep saying it isn’t going to keep going, but people don’t realize what it does for Marathon.”
The festival celebrated its 38th year this past weekend.
“For some (organizations) this is their biggest fundraiser,” said Wendy Thibeault, who has been in charge of publicity and promotions of the Maple Festival for more than eight years now. “It’s still a home-grown festival.”
The festival does not allow outside food vendors. The food that varies from hot dogs and hamburgers to pancakes and maple-flavored milkshakes is made and sold by local church, school and youth organizations.
Among the largest fundraisers is the annual pancake-eating contest.
The Peck Memorial Library raised more than $1,800 within 15 minutes Saturday morning as a Florida man ate 26 pancakes.
Joe LaRue, 48, has participated in the Maple Festival’s pancake eating contest for 11 years. He was one of 10 contestants eating to raise money for local nonprofit groups.
Soliciting $47.95 per pancake and a flat donation of $593, LaRue raised $1,839.70 by eating 26 pancakes at the 12th annual pancake eating contest.
LaRue, a member of the International Federation of Competitive Eating who grew up in the Binghamton area, has raised between $8,000 and $10,000 for the library over the last four years.
At last year’s competition, LaRue set a record of 35 pancakes.
“I wanted to break $2,000,” LaRue said of the amount of money he raised by eating. “You just try to keep a rhythm, a pace. And try not to get your mouth too full.”
The runner up in number of pancakes was Kipp Salisbury, a Marathon student who consumed 15 pancakes in the 15 minutes. He raised $662.50 for the Homer Avenue United Methodist Church.
John Potter, however, raised the second largest amount for his charity with only nine pancakes.
After soliciting $31.50 per pancake and $695 flat donation, Potter raised $978.50 for the Cortland County Federation of Sportsmen.
The most popular events at the festival, according to Thibeault, are the all you can eat pancake breakfast and sugar shack.
Volunteers cooked between 500 and 700 pancakes an hour at the all-you-can-eat breakfast and festival-goers line up at the sugar shack to see how maple syrup is made.
All the syrup that is made at the sugar shack is used for the pancakes at the festival, while all the syrup made from local producers is sold at the festival.
“They have just been for 38 years traditional things that haven’t changed,” Thibeault said of the festival’s events. “This time of year, people are looking for things to associate with spring, and maple is spring.”
Although the temperatures were a bit chilly Saturday with an overcast sky, people from all over came for the maple syrup.
“Even from the very first year we’ve seen people come from all over the state,” Fox said.
Thibeault said the attendance, which is always unknown because of the free admission, was average on Saturday for the first day of the two-day festival.
“People expect rain at the Maple Festival now,” she said. “There is always one day a year like this. Everyone comes for something, whether it be the food, crafts or entertainment.”
Brianna Parks, 10 and her little brother Sam, 7, of McGraw came with their aunt on the train.
“I really like the train,” said Brianna Parks as she and her brother were looking for some maple-flavored candy.
A shuttle train carries people between the fair and Cortland.
Fox said it was a good year for the local maple syrup producers with the freezing nights and warmer days, allowing the sap to run.
“As long as the maple trees don’t bud, then the sap is no good,” Fox said. “I had one person tell me that the sugar content was high this year, which means it doesn’t take as long to boil the sap.”
The sugar shack made enough syrup for this and next year’s festival.