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September 20, 2012

Giant pumpkins to be weighed and raced

-- —   There have not been any records broken in a few years, but one thing is for sure, the giant pumpkins always get people’s attention.

  Pumpkins and other fruit will be weighed, judged, cooked, eaten, painted, carved and even raced in Otsego Lake as PumpkinFest returns to Cooperstown this weekend.

  The event, hosted by the Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce, will kick off Saturday as pumpkin and other fruit growers converge at Doubleday Field parking lot for a weigh-off. Food and merchandise vendors will also be on hand starting at 9 a.m. The weighing of the giant pumpkins will begin at 11 a.m. and will feature growers from all over the northeast region.

  The grower with the heaviest pumpkin will win $2,000 and a plaque. Prizes will range from the top prize down to $50, with special recognition given to pumpkins grown in Otsego County.

  Last year’s largest pumpkin tipped the scale at 1,423.1 pounds. The grower was Gary Adams of Lafayette. His first adventure to the Cooperstown PumpkinFest was in 2009 when he brought what he described as “just a baby.” His pumpkin that year weighed 469 pounds.

  Adams said he became interested in the competition when he saw it featured on a PBS show, “Lord of the Gourds,” in 2007. Back in 2009, he called himself a learner and hoped to one day grow a 1,000-pounder. He was able to surpass that goal and said he learned a lot during his first year of growing.

  “The biggest thing is the positioning of the pumpkin on the vine,” he said after winning last year’s event. “Just because you have big vines does not mean your pumpkin will be big.”

  In 2010, Todd Brownell of Northville took home the $2,000 grand prize. His first pumpkin was disqualified for having a hole on the bottom, but his second weighed a whopping 1,540.7 pounds.  It was a personal best for the veteran pumpkin grower. He said genetics, sun and soil quality play a big role in how well a pumpkin grows.

  David Hilstolsky of Wyoming, Pa., broke his state’s record for the largest pumpkin with his 1,557-pound orange giant at the 2009 PumpkinFest weigh-off.

  The world record, which was set at the Prince Edward County Pumpkinfest weigh-off in Ormstown, Quebec, Canada on Oct. 15, 2011, is 1,818.5 pounds.

  Whether or not a new record is broken at this year’s event is uncertain. A big factor will be how well growers watered their crop during the drought this summer, according to Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce Director Patricia Szarpa.

  “The pumpkin growers are quite serious about what they do and they have been doing their watering throughout the drought,” Szarpa said. “About half way through the summer they were feeling really good that things were picking up and that things were going well.”

  Other factors include travel (some burst or get punctured on the way) and when pumpkins reach the “right” size for competition.

  Szarpa said she anticipates at least 30 giant pumpkins to be entered into the weigh-off. She added that the goal is to have 10 to 12 of those in the Regatta Sunday morning. The giant pumpkins will be carved into boats and local business owners, growers and community members will take part in a series of race heats beginning at 11 a.m. at Lakefront Park. There will be lots for families to see and do Sunday with many vendors, food and children’s games, according to Szarpa. The Cooperstown High School jazz band will provide live music as soon as the Regatta is finished, she added.

  For the first time, the Regatta will be broadcast live at

  “I have been told that it has become very popular over the years and that in the past people have had a hard time getting a good spot to watch the races. We are hoping this will allow more people to enjoy the event,” Szarpa said.

  The video will also be available after the event, according to Szarpa.

  The chamber director said people will also be allowed onto the Glimmerglass Queen.

  “They are going out of their way to cancel, if need be, their 11 a.m. tour to put some people on the boat so that they can see better,” Szarpa said.

  Other new events will include a pumpkin carving and decorating contest (done in age categories) on Saturday sponsored by the Principal Financial Group. Szarpa said there will be a small fee to enter, but proceeds will go to the Bassett Cancer Institute.

  “The pumpkins will all be put on display at Doubleday parking lot for people to see for a little bit and then participants will be able to take them home later,” she said.

  The finish products will be judged and prizes will be awarded.

  Also on Saturday, there will be a pumpkin-themed scavenger hunt involving the merchants on Main Street. Later that night, at 8 p.m., The Smithy Center for the Arts will present the play “Walking Toward America” and anyone bearing a PumpkinFest t-shirt will receive a 20 percent discount on a ticket.

  Although this will be Szarpa’s first time planning for PumpkinFest, she said she can feel how excited community members get about it.  Szarpa began her duties as chamber director in April and said she has been involved in planning several large events in her previous positions in elder care marketing and communication, but nothing involving large, massive gourds that turn into boats and go into the water.

  “I think that everyone looks forward, I think no matter where you are, to fall events,” Szarpa said. “I think people enjoy this time of year. It is beautiful with all the colors, temperatures are just really comfortable, and I think no matter what community you come from, I think everyone is looking for things to do.”

  PumpkinFest is a good leading-up event to Halloween, Szarpa said.  

  “Anything to do with pumpkins and the holiday times as we head toward October tends to bring families out. People love to decorate their homes with the pumpkins and the corn stalks and all that fun stuff. So I think anything to do with the fall decorations and fall colors provides a family feel,” she said.

  For more information about growing large pumpkins, visit For more information about PumpkinFest, visit


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