Pumpkin carving, jack-o-lantern towers, hayrides and costume parades — fall foliage or pumpkin festivals are a staple of autumn in New Hampshire allowing communities the opportunity to gather, celebrate the season and bolster their local economies.
That was of course until 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic, which has many festival organizers hesitant to hold events that would attract large crowds, from locals to out-of-state leaf peepers, as they have always in the past.
“We are not having public events this year,” said Zoë Lantaff, Vice President/Entertainment Coordinator of Granite Town Festivities Committee, which organizes The Milford Pumpkin Festival. “We decided it wouldn’t be a responsible thing to do, cause there is no way to keep crowds down.”
The Milford Pumpkin Festival in recent years has drawn between 46,000 to 50,000 people, she said, to the town’s downtown Oval over the Columbus Day Weekend, the weekend it is traditionally held.
“That’s a lot of people,” she said, adding the crowd the festival brings in is a huge boon for the local businesses in and around Milford.
And unfortunately, 2020 has been a bad year for many local businesses, she said. “If you drive through, for instance, the Oval here in Milford, people have closed their businesses that have been in business for a while because it just wasn’t profitable for them.”
Lantaff said that even though there will be no physical festival there will be a virtual one.
“It really is important for us as a committee to do as much as we can,” she said, for the businesses as well as the local residents. “This is a huge event for the community.”
Plans include a town-wide scavenger hunt, a virtual talent show and band performances posted online instead of live performances. Information about the scavenger hunt is posted online at https://www.milfordpumpkinfestival.org.
“Another thing that we’re doing is we’re going to be buying gift certificates from businesses and restaurants in and around the Milford area and then holding raffles so that we are in some way helping to get more people into businesses and restaurants in Milford,” she said.
The committee will have to be careful about not spending too much money, she said, since the festival will not have revenue from vendors and business sponsors this year.
The Goffstown Giant Pumpkin Weigh-off & Regatta 2020 that had been planned to take place Oct. 17 and 18 has also been canceled.
“Goffstown Main Street has canceled all of its stuff,” said Ellen Vermokowitz, president of the Goffstown Main Street Program, including the annual Christmas tree lighting. “It’s pretty much cut back to nothing. …We don’t want to attract crowds of people.”
However, the main street organization is working on ways to attract people to Goffstown merchants and build community — which is what the weigh-off and regatta usually do this time of year. So far this includes a soon to be announced scarecrow contest in which participants can make a scarecrow at home that will be used as a fall display in the village area of town.
“We’re trying to draw people to the village area for our businesses and keep that small-town community feeling going on. Goffstown has a tremendous community feeling here,” Vermokowitz said.
The Goffstown Main Street Program will be posting information about the scarecrows contest online at https://www.goffstownmainstreet.org/ soon, she said.
Claremont’s 23rd Annual Fall Festival and Chili Cook-Off has been canceled, said Elyse Crossman, executive director of the Greater Claremont Chamber of Commerce, which runs the event along with the Claremont Parks and Recreation Department. Like the other festival organizers, Crossman said, Claremont organizers don’t want to attract a crowd, but they still want to bring the community together in some way.
“We’re going to be doing a drive-in style move in place of the event,” she said. “For us we’re just really trying to provide a safe community event … the fall festival has always been a family-friendly event so we are keeping with that theme.”
The movie, Toy Story 4, will be shown on a day and time to be announced soon online at greaterclaremontnh.org.
The Keene Pumpkin Festival has announced a “self-managed” event. “We would still love to see this happen. But due to many factors, we are now asking the community for a “self-managed” festival this year. We are encouraging downtown and area businesses along with schools and citizens to carve and display jack-o-lanterns in front of your homes and businesses. We invite you to post pictures of your jack-o’-lanterns on the official Facebook page: facebook.com/keenepumpkinfestival,” Tim Zinn of the organizing non-profit that runs the event Let It Shine said in the announcement.
In the announcement, Zinn also said that Let It Shine would be stepping down from running the event in November and is looking for another group to take over the Keene Pumpkin Festival.
The Monadnock Pumpkin Festival organizer Jennifer Matthews, of Memorable Events LLC, said the event, which has been held at the Cheshire County Fairgrounds since 2015, has been canceled this year.
“We tried. We worked with the fairgrounds,” Matthews said, adding she wanted to create a socially distanced event, but ultimately, “They were uncomfortable hosting anything for this year.”
Instead, the festival will be virtual, she said, by asking people to “tag us in your photos of pumpkins.”
The silver lining of having to cancel this year, she added, is that they have more time to plan for next year and shake up the festival with new ideas.
“We are excited because it will give us some time to reinvent some things and come back stronger next year,” Matthews said.
The Warner Fall Foliage Festival, which is turning 73 this year, has also gone virtual this year, announcing several virtual festival events on its website, which are taking place now through Oct. 10. “to keep the spirit of Festival alive while following social distance guidelines and continuing to give back to the community,” organizers said online.
The Warner Fall Festival has set the goal of raising $5,000, which it will match with $5,000 in festival reserve funds. All proceeds will be donated to the Warner Area Food Pantry and Fuel Assistance programs managed by the Belknap/Merrimack Community Action Program.
There are several ways to participate including buying a t-shirt or making a donation online at wfff.org. Participates can also:
- Register for the virtual 5K at wfff.org/5k-road-race-registration/ and walk or run anytime between Sept. 26 and Oct. 12. Registration includes a festival 2020 t-shirt.
- Purchase raffle tickets online at wfff.org/raffle for cash prizes
- Purchase goodies from the Festival Crafter Directory online at wfff.org
- Sign up to volunteer and help plan the 2021 festival
- Tag your own virtual festival celebrations and community snapshots with #WarnerCares and #WFFF
The Laconia-based New Hampshire Pumpkin Festival was one of the first festivals to cancel. Karmen Gifford, president of the Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce, said the decision was made back in June and was announced before the Fourth of July. While the Chamber stands by its early decision to cancel the 2020 festival, it wanted to find a way to help the businesses in the region. “We support 24 communities under the Chamber, so we know that it was important to invite people to the Lakes Regions,” she said.
“We have gone in another direction and are doing something we consider a safe way of gathering or not gathering,” Gifford said announcing a new online campaign. “ComeCatchtheGlow.com. Discover the Autumn in the Lakes Region.”
An interactive map of the Lake Region will be up soon on the website to highlight Columbus Day weekend events, including jack-o-lantern displays that will be up at businesses throughout the region.
The campaign also lets leaf peepers and stay-cationers know that businesses are open.
“People can drive around and see the pumpkins lit up on Columbus Day Weekend but not gather in large crowds,” Gifford said. “We don’t want to cancel everything completely. We want to find ways to adapt or as we say pivot or carve out new opportunities, and I think people are looking for things to do which is the other side of it.”
ComeCatchtheGlow.com will not replace the pumpkin festival but is definitely here to stay, she said.
“We are still seeing a lot of tourism,” including a lot of stay-cationers, she said. “Sometimes we forget what’s great in our own backyard. I think it’s just a reminder that we live in a really beautiful area and not everyone gets foliage like we do.”
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