St. J Maple Fest Pivots to Smaller Activities

ST. JOHNSBURY - The St. Johnsbury Maple Festival has once again had to pivot its normal festivities due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Organizer Scott Beck says that there are three focuses for this year's events: donut weekends, maple menu takeovers, and "Did You Know?"

The St. J Maple Festival was founded by Scott Beck and Fred Little in 2009 as a way for the community to celebrate the arrival of spring. In a typical year, Beck said "it's a huge festival; five to seven thousand people show up" to downtown St. Johnsbury where there are food trucks, vendor tents, activities, live music, and more. A pancake breakfast is also usually sponsored by local businesses and organizations. The event would begin at 9:00 AM most years and end six hours later. The last "normal" festival with all of these events was in 2019.

The only event carrying over from the traditional festival is the Sap Lap 5K marathon. The race is set to take place this year on May 1 at 8:00 AM. The event is sponsored by NEK Community Action and all funds raised go toward the local warming shelter. Registration will take place at the Boxcar & Caboose bookstore until April 26.

In partnership with the St. Johnsbury Chamber of Commerce, the St. J Maple Festival has organized a maple menu takeover amongst local restaurants and eateries. Local food vendors were challenged to highlight the sugaring season on their menu for the month of March. Upwards of 15 businesses are participating, including St. Johnsbury Distillery with their Vermont vodka and Dunc's maple rum; Locally Social with their maple pecan croissants and maple beverages; and Natural Provisions with maple walnut fudge and spicy maple tofu. All of the syrup used for these menu features are also coming from local farms.

The festival is also hosting "Donut Day" every Saturday at Boxcar & Caboose. For three hours each Saturday in March, Eddie's Bakery will be set up at the bookstore selling maple donuts and other baked goods. Owner Paul Toney Jr. said that there have been many pre-orders already and he's excited to "get to see the people." That is the main reason Eddie's Bakery has participated in the maple festival over the years--not for the additional funds, but to get out into the community. "I get to make different things, some fun things, for retail," Toney said.

Starting this week, Beck is working with local businesses to create a "Did You Know" series display. In the windows of downtown storefronts, historical and scientific facts about the maple industry will be posted. Beck said that this is to help celebrate and raise awareness of the strong impact the maple industry has on the NEK.

The festival may look more scattered this year, but the focus is "to keep the idea alive and keep the festival in people's minds," Beck explained. "We may add an event here or there... so continue to keep an eye out."