April 12, 2010


Maple fest taps its 40th year

Annual Marathon festival has grown into ‘community trademark’


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Maple syrup maker Bill Whitmore, left, explains the science behind syrup production to visitors Saturday at the Central New York Maple Festival from right, William, Ellen and Jason Osborne from Conklin.

Staff Reporter

MARATHON — Remembrances of past maple festivals marked Saturday’s 40th anniversary of the Central New York Maple Festival.
Lifelong Marathon-resident Sam Whiting stood holding his Lhaso-Apso dog inside Marathon High School, saying he has been coming to the festival his entire life.
“The helicopter is not the same one as when I was a kid, but it’s still cool,” Whiting said of the aircraft used to give attendees rides throughout the event.
Whiting said he comes to see the handmade woodwork crafts that are on display and for sale.
“I used to tell people it’s the only place you can go and see a couple ... thousand people come to see people boil sap,” Whiting said.
Marathon-native John Carroll said he has been coming to the festival over the years and he misses the New York, Susquehanna & Western Railway train that used to transport people to the festival.
The railway eliminated the train this year because of the economic downturn.
The train had taken attendees to the festival from Cortland, Binghamton and Syracuse in past years. Since 2007, the train only traveled from Cortland.
“It was a joy for children to see it,” Carroll said.
Carroll, a Virgil resident, said he finds the festival has attracted more vendors and a more diverse crowd over the years.
“People from different countries who have different ethnic backgrounds come and that’s good. It brings a nice flavor to the whole thing,” Carroll said, adding he thinks word has spread about the festival over the years.
Carroll said he enjoys returning to town to see the faces of people he still knows.
“It is good to come back,” Carroll said.
The unseasonably warm temperatures were not good for the maple syrup production this year, said Tom Heller, a member of the Maple Fest committee.
Heller said he knew of producers who would usually get 600 gallons of sap from 2,400 taps on trees but this year only got 150 gallons from the same number of taps. It takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup.
“Ideal weather is freezing temperatures at night and 40 degrees during the day. You have got to have the freeze to go through the cycle,” Heller said.
Heller said the sap does not flow as well during the warm weather because it instead goes to produce the buds on the trees. When this happens, the sap that does flow down through the trunk where the taps are has a lower sugar content because the sugar is being used by the tree.
Heller said a few producers did not come to sell their syrup at this year’s festival because they did not make enough to sell. The festival had 12 producers selling syrup and confections throughout the weekend. Heller pointed to shelves stocked with one row of maple syrup, saying usually each shelf would be double-stocked.
Despite this, the producers set the prices at the usual $47 a gallon, since they decided the prices in January, before they knew the production might take a hit, Heller explained.
Heller was hopeful all the goods would be sold by the end of the weekend.
Bob and Penny Sames of Port Crane planned to buy maple syrup as they do every year at the festival.
“We have been coming here for ages. As soon as you get that maple bug, that’s it,” Bob Sames said.
Seventeen-year-old Chelsea Hammond of Killawog said she usually volunteers at the various stands but was taking Saturday off.
Hammond had just bought maple cream.
Amanda Donahue of Binghamton brought her 10-month-old daughter Zooey to the festival and stood by the sausage and pepper stand outside the high school.
Donahue was resuming a family tradition after not having attended the festival for several years.
“My mom used to take me when I was a kid and so we decided to come,” Donahue said.
Marathon resident Jaimie Edwards came to the festival with Jon Morrison of Truxton and their bulldog, Diesel. Edwards said since she graduated from Marathon High School she comes to the festival every year and sees people she went to school with.
“It’s always fun to get back together,” Edwards said, calling the festival a trademark of Marathon.
Past maple festival queens sat in the high school auditorium Saturday morning, sharing their favorite memories of the festival.
Some remembered baking pancakes year after year with their mothers, others remembered the pancake eating contest and many remembered that being crowned the festival’s queen gave them self-confidence to carry with them throughout their lives.
Margaret Thon, a Marathon High School sophomore, was crowned the new Maple Festival queen after winning Friday’s pageant.


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