Next year, the National Maple Syrup festival will have to find a new home sweet home.

Brown County has hosted the festival the first weekend in March for the past two years. A contract with the owner of the festival had it happening here until at least 2017.

But because of a lack of funding and volunteers, the Brown County Convention and Visitors Bureau Board of Directors decided not to host it in 2017, said Executive Director Jane Ellis.

It was funded primarily by a $70,000 grant from the Indiana Department of Agriculture, which was split over two years. That covered costs related to maple syrup education, like Native American reenactors who demonstrate how syrup used to be made.

The CVB also contributed $14,000 annually to the festival.

Total expenses were close to $68,000 each year; revenue was about $27,000, Ellis said.

“With what the bureau put in, it was basically a $14,000 loss,” she said.

“I think festivals are very misleading. They’re very difficult to put on and make money off of,” she said.

Revenue streams included festival ticket sales, concessions, booth rentals by vendors at the festival and fees from area restaurants to offer Maple on the Menu specials.

In 2016, the CVB added a new event the weekend before the festival: Tap the Town. Families could adopt a maple tree downtown to tap, and local students would collect and measure the sap and send them results.

Tim Burton, who owns the rights to the National Maple Syrup Festival, was surprised to hear that it wouldn’t be returning to Brown County.

Burton and his family own Burton’s Maplewood Farm in Medora, the original location of the festival before it outgrew the area.

Ellis had sent him a certified letter at the end of July about the board’s decision. He said he had been traveling and had not had a chance to read it until the middle of August.

The 2015 festival took place in both Nashville and Brown County State Park, and brought in 4,000 visitors.

This year’s festival took place only in the state park, except for pre-festival events like the tree tapping and area restaurants serving maple-themed food items. Shuttle buses took visitors from downtown Nashville to the park.

“I know a lot of the merchants were very positive about having this event in the community and it was drawing a lot of people,” Burton said.

Burton said he isn’t sure a festival will happen anywhere in 2017 because there isn’t enough lead time to plan it.

“Because it is the National Maple Syrup Festival, that’s what you should be shooting for, a great event. … And it has been in the past,” he said.

The festival also benefited the Heads Up! Foundation, which donates money to the Cleft and Craniofacial Program at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health. Seven-percent of the gross sales of the Burton family’s maple syrup sold at the festival went to that cause, he said.

Burton would like to see it come back to Brown County someday — or at least in Indiana, he said. He said he has had inquiries from other states and festivals.

“It’s making sure it’s in the right hands, the financing is there and the volunteer base is there,” he said.

Ellis said the CVB’s goal for 2017 is to use money that would have spent on the syrup festival to bolster events that are already bringing in visitors, like the Indiana State Fingerstyle Guitar Competition which took place at the Brown County Playhouse last month.

The goal is not to find another event for March.

“Even though Brown County needs the business in March, not all businesses are open in March,” Ellis said. “For the two years we did it, we did have complaints about businesses not being open.”

“We know that there’s going to be some people that are probably disappointed. I think that we all are a little saddened that we didn’t get the return on it that we hoped, but it’s not like we’re throwing our hands up. We’re looking at ways to take that money and make it work better for everyone.”

Author photo
Suzannah Couch grew up in Brown County, reading the Brown County Democrat. A 2013 Franklin College graduate, she covers cops/courts, education and arts/entertainment.