Revamped Keene Pumpkin Festival in the works for 2022

  • Entries at a past Pumpkin Festival in Keene, NH. Picasa

Keene Sentinel
Published: 7/2/2021 5:06:13 PM

After months of uncertainty over its future, the Keene Pumpkin Festival is slated to make a return in 2022.

Keene resident Lisa Scoville has spent the past several months working with other community members to relaunch the longtime local tradition after its previous organizers announced they’d no longer run the event. She and several others have stepped up as new board members for Let it Shine, the nonprofit that had been responsible for the festival in recent years.

Scoville, a native of North Carolina, said that while she hasn’t had a chance to experience a Keene Pumpkin Festival yet, she’s heard a lot from local residents about what they want to see when it makes a comeback.

“We want it to be something that involves the community,” Scoville said. “It got away from the community aspect for a while. I wasn’t here, but I was told to bring it back to what the community wants. They still want it downtown. It’s a great memory for a lot of people.”

Plans for the revamped festival are still in the works, according to Scoville, but she said it will hopefully feature live music, a chili cook-off, trick-or-treating and, of course, lots and lots of pumpkins. She noted that the board is still in possession of one of the large, triangular scaffolding fixtures that were focal points for the jack-o’-lantern display in the past.

City Councilor Mike Remy, who is also on the new Let it Shine board, said the event is being planned for next year due to the amount of effort needed to get the festival up and running again.

“The festival needs a lot of work,” Remy said, “and trying to get one ready for this year would be tough.”

Keene’s Pumpkin Festival dates back to the early ‘90s, according to its website, and grew to become known worldwide for setting, and then repeatedly breaking, the Guinness record for most lit jack-o’-lanterns in one place. But in 2014, out-of-control parties outside the festival gave rise to rioting, resulting in vandalism, injuries and dozens of arrests.

In April 2015, the Keene City Council voted not to grant Let it Shine a license to hold the event that October. In subsequent years, Let it Shine revived the festival, but on a much smaller scale than what it had been in the past. A separate festival was also held at the Cheshire Fairgrounds in North Swanzey and the original pumpkin festival was moved to Laconia in 2015.

Last year’s Keene Pumpkin Festival was canceled due to the pandemic, and in September, Let it Shine announced that board members were looking to pass the torch.

While organizers hope to bring back a fun event that can be enjoyed by the community, Scoville said, she doesn’t plan on going too big too fast, and they have no intention of breaking any world records.

“It needs to be a slow transition,” she said. “We need to keep the reins on it and learn from the past.”

Remy agreed, saying the goal is for a festival a bit larger than in recent years but not nearly as big as it was at its peak.

Scoville said she’s also interested in reaching out to local schools to get students involved with the festival. For example, she said, they could plant and tend pumpkins that could eventually be used as part of the jack-o’-lantern display, which would teach them a bit about botany and sustainability.

She added that she’d like to work with local businesses and nonprofits to find ways they could benefit from the festival as well.

The new board consists of several city councilors — Kate Bosley, Mike Giacomo and Remy — and a number of people who have little to no nonprofit experience but wanted to be involved with bringing the festival back to life, Scoville said. Tim Zinn, who was a member of the previous Let it Shine board, is also staying involved temporarily to assist with the transition.

Scoville said that anyone interested in participating in the new pumpkin festival is invited to reach out to the board to learn more about volunteer opportunities. While she said there aren’t any specific tasks for volunteers yet, people who are willing to contribute in the long-term would be a big help.

A Facebook inquiry seeking potential volunteers generated more than 100 responses, according to Remy.

Both he and Scoville said the new group of organizers has done a great job so far and is enthusiastic about bringing some new vitality to the beloved Elm City tradition.

“I’m excited to see [the festival] come back,” Remy said. “I think we have a really strong group of folks that are involved.”

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