Each year, thousands of visitors flock to Maplewood State Park for the annual Leaf Days celebration. Over the course of two weekends, kids and families can immerse themselves in activities—from hikes and wagon rides to look at the changing leaves to making apple cider and churning butter. There is ample opportunity for learning about the park, the area’s farming history, and the surrounding nature.
Friends of Maplewood State Park is the key driver to make this event happen. They handle all event planning and promotion as well as supplying materials and organizing volunteers. Since 2002, they have shepherded the event through various iterations, adjusting the activities according to feedback from attendees. At the beginning, the event was more focused on selling food and clothing. Since then, it’s grown dramatically. John Nordstrom, Friends of Maplewood board member and the event organizer, said, “Parents liked if there were things to do for their kids.” So, in the more recent years, focus has been on providing hands-on activities that offer an opportunity for learning. While the actual activities vary from year to hear, here is a taste:
- Making butter or ice cream
- Building a bird house or feeder
- Shelling corn
- Making rope
- Pressing apples for cider
- Nature talks about edible mushrooms
- Art/sculpture from nature
- Leaf hikes
- Wagon rides
Volunteers are really the crucial ingredient for pulling off this large annual event. A core committee of the friends group manages the planning, outreach, and coordination. During the event weekends, there are 25-30 volunteers that set up, facilitate the activities, and clean up each day. Of the approximately 70 volunteers, some join for a short shift while others are there from start to finish every day.
While Friends of Maplewood organizes most of the event, there are a number of partners that also play an important role. The DNR supports the group in planning and helps day-of with managing the influx of visitors. A local Lion’s Club sponsors the liability insurance required for the wagon rides. Partners and volunteers help provide materials and supplies for the activities, such as old-time equipment, lumber for bird houses, and gallon milk jug covers for crafts. Additionally, some local experts volunteer their time and knowledge to lead hikes or sessions about their area of expertise, like mushrooms, wildflowers, or trees.
In 2020, the event was canceled due to COVID. The group is in planning mode for 2021 and will make a final decision about whether or not to hold this year’s event at their annual meeting on September 2nd. Check out their website for an announcement on September 3rd for a final decision.