NH Pumpkin Festival returns to Laconia on Oct. 22By JOHN KOZIOL
Union Leader Correspondent April 26. 2016 10:21PM
LACONIA — Bigger, better, and under new management, the New Hampshire Pumpkin Festival will return to the City on the Lakes on Oct. 22.
The pumpkin festival, where attendees have tried to set world records for the most lit jack-o-lanterns, began in 1991 in Keene and in recent years was overseen by the nonprofit group Let It Shine.
Rioting at the 2014 festival, however, dismayed Keene officials who denied Let It Shine’s application to return in 2015 and forced it to seek an alternative venue. After considering several interested communities, Let It Shine chose Laconia, which last Oct. 24, hosted what was known as the 25th N.H. Pumpkin Festival.
In 2015, Let It Shine partnered with the Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce, but for 2016 the chamber is doing all the work, said Executive Director Karmen Gifford on Tuesday.
She said the pumpkin festival is a statewide happening that, hopefully, will again see upwards of 50,000 visitors, some of whom, Gifford noted, drove three hours last year to downtown Laconia.
Although she continues to invite all inquiries, Gifford said a number of local businesses have already stepped up as sponsors and/or donors to cover the cost of putting on the pumpkin festival, whose 2016 budget is approximately $160,000.
Committees are being formed to improve the experience for visitors, said Gifford, and also to increase the number of jack-o-lanterns.
Last year, Laconia’s attempt at the world record — 30,581, that was set at the 2013 festival in Keene — fell some 20,000 pumpkins short.
But “in just six months, we learned a lot and we will take the volunteers who’ve come forward and focus on areas we can improve,” said Gifford.
One big change will be the relocation of the 35-foot tall pipe pyramid that holds the jack-o-lanterns. It will move a short distance east from Veterans Square to the area of the Laconia Public Library, where, said Gifford, the glow of pumpkins will be seen by people coming up Main Street from the south and down Parade Road from the north.
The 2016 festival will be more user-friendly, too.
“We saw a lot of people who came without pumpkins or didn’t know they should bring one or how far they had to carry it,” Gifford said, so more will be done ahead of the festival to ensure those concerns and questions are clearly answered.
To boost jack-o-lantern production, “we will have a committee that works with the pumpkin growers and school districts,” whose students will do some carving, she added.
As it did in 2015, the festival will again feature a haunted house at the Belknap Mill; train rides on the Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad; live entertainment; pumpkin bowling; and the game-filled, painted orange-brick way which during the rest of the year is known as Canal Street but which will be temporarily transformed into “Pump(Canal)ley.”
Also returning are a masquerade ball; 5k and 10k runs; and the pumpkin parade, which will be upgraded, however, from “less of a stroll,” said Gifford, into “more of a grand parade.”
She said marketing for the 2016 pumpkin festival will begin earlier than last year, and it will also emphasize the many other activities taking place in Laconia and the Lakes Region on the Friday before and the Sunday after.