Traffic was backed up about 3 miles Saturday afternoon while people headed to Punkin’ Chunkin’ at Bald Eagle State Park.
It’s the kind of dilemma that doesn’t seem so bad after last year’s flooding caused the event to be canceled.
About 20,000 people attended the sixth Punkin’ Chunkin’, organized by the Howard Fire Company.
Volunteer firefighters worked about 12 straight hours responding to dozens of rescue calls the day before Punkin’ Chunkin’ 2016, only to find the lake had risen about 150 feet the next morning, according to Howard Fire Company founder George Demchak, who tried to convince park staff to stay open for the event.
The state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources had already shut it down. Punkin’ Chunkin’ organizers also realized it wouldn’t be possible, because the only access road for the park was close to flooding, which would strand thousands of people.
“There was a lot of disappointment losing this whole festival, because it brings in 25 percent of our annual budget,” Howard Fire Company President Mark Ott said. “That hurt a lot, and then the community responded really well. We had churches, we had civic groups, we had people from all over sending donations. So, we did OK last year. And we still feel good about that.”
The fire company was “lucky” to receive enough local and national donations to stay open, and Ott said they tried to send “thank you” notes to everyone who contributed.
Ott said the fundraiser has paid its dues, having gone through several years of “cloudy, cold, brisk weather.” A sunny fall day for “chunkin’ ” is what he had always wanted.
“We have wonderful weather, people wearing T-shirts, the vendors doing well and the crowds are just full,” Demchak said. “And we always want more and more people to come to this.”
An air cannon was one of 10 launching machines at the event. The Smokin Lamas, a world record holder for punkin’ chunkin’ in the human-powered division, also shot off pumpkins into the lake using a catapult propelled by bicycle.
Despite the large community interest in the event, organizers say more volunteers are needed for Punkin’ Chunkin’.
About 70 people volunteered Saturday, Ott said, and the event needs about 140. More volunteers for parking would help make the traffic move faster.
“The people that help us put a lot of work into it,” Ott said. “I appreciate the members of our company putting months and months preparation into this. I just want to really thank everyone who helps make this run. All of the vendors, the “chunkers,” the public that comes, I just want to thank everyone for supporting the fire company.”