Carthage celebrates 50th Annual Maple Leaf Festival


Brad Stout

A Storm trooper shakes the hand of a young Maple Leaf Parade attendee ahead of the December premiere of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Similar groups and performers are expected to make their way down the parade route for this year’s Maple Leaf Parade, which will take place on October 15 in Carthage, MO.

The month of October 2016 marks the fiftieth anniversary for Carthage, Missouri’s Annual Maple Leaf Festival. Held every year in October, the Carthage Chamber of Commerce works to provide a fun-filled month of entertainment and events for the citizens of the city and members of the surrounding area.

The Maple Leaf Festival Began in 1966 and has been a yearly tradition since then. The event initially started out as a competition for local marching bands, and over the years evolved into the wide array of events it boasts today. The city of Carthage, which is home to around 15,000 people, hosts over 80,000 visitors to the Maple Leaf Festival per year. As such, it is the largest festival to take place in Southwest Missouri during the year.

The events of the festival take place from October 1 to October 29, with only five days being exempt from the festivities. Some of the lesser-known events that take place include home tours, a bicycle tour, a 5K, a 10K, a color run, and several pageants for children of all ages. There’s even a dog show and dog skill contests included, so that people’s pets can get involved in the fun. The most popular and well-known event by far, however, is the Maple Leaf Parade, which will take place on October 15. The parade winds its way through the city and its historic square, ending at Carthage Middle School. Floats and performers make up most of the parade, which lasts for approximately three hours.

While the event is a popular choice for members of the Joplin metro area, it is Carthage residents that have the most experience with the event. Erin Marston, a Missouri Southern junior and longtime Carthage resident, said, “Since I grew up in Carthage, Maple Leaf has always been a big deal. I’ve watched, marched, and [ridden] floats. One of my favorite parts of the festival is the sense of community it bring to Carthage.”

Jeanine Poe of the Carthage Chamber of Commerce acts as coordinator for this year’s Festival. Poe explained that a committee for the 50th festival actually began meeting in May 2015 and planning special events for this historic year.

“Some of those things that have come together are Friday night (the 8th) we will have fireworks in Central Park for the first time, so we’re really excited about that,” Poe said. “We were also able to bring a carnival to town.”

The Chamber has also defined Maple Leaf Forever flags with the intention of having residents hang them over town. Poe also revealed that a hardback coffee table Maple Leaf book will be available for purchase after the festival’s end.

The festival’s continuing popularity is unprecedented in a small town like Carthage. Marston continued, “Everyone puts everything aside for one day and just enjoys the magic of the festival. Fall has always been my favorite, and I love that I live in a town that celebrates it.”

Though the Maple Leaf Festival has already begun, there’s still plenty of time to attend more events. Events are scheduled every day except Mondays through October 29, with the much-anticipated parade occurring on Saturday, October 15. A complete calendar of events can be found on the Chamber’s website,