The fourth annual Punkin’ Chunkin’ Festival is shaping up to be a can’t-miss proposition.
But that’s only natural when you’re aiming for a lake.
Once again, the pumpkins will be flying at Bald Eagle State Park for the Howard Volunteer Fire Company’s benefit fall festival. On Oct. 18, various launching machines will fling orange missiles more than 1,000 feet into Sayers Lake at speeds approaching 300 mph.
Trebuchets, catapults and torsion machines will entertain visitors by shooting pumpkin projectiles. But this year’s festival also will feature an air cannon powered by compressed air, the upper end of punkin’ chunkin’ technology. Its range extends almost a mile — too much power for festival organizers, who don’t want to shell nearby Howard.
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However, if park officials approve the cannon’s use, the machine will be dialed back for safety.
On the other end of the technological spectrum, two slingshot-style launchers will join the day’s arsenal. One will be mounted on the back of a truck, and the other will be dragged into place by tractor or horses.
“The spectacle of it is going to be so cool,” said organizer George Demchak, a fire company member.
Many of the launching machines have been featured on the Discovery Channel competing in the World Championship Punkin’ Chunkin’ festival, now in Dover, Del.
But what about the pumpkins soaring through the sky toward floating targets? Will they be so many potential pies splashing to waste?
All the pumpkins will be ornamental ones donated by a local Amish farmer, Demchak said. Once they’re scooped out of the lake, they’ll become pig food.
Airborne fruit won’t be the only attraction.
From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., the festival will offer dozens of craft and food vendors, a farmers market, a pie-eating contest, hay rides, live music and “punkin’ painting.”
Parking and admission will be free, though the company will accept donations. Last year, the festival raised about $35,000 from vendor fees and donations to the fire company’s $115,000 annual budget.
“This is such a significant impact for a small fire company,” Demchak said.
The company is seeking craft vendors who can obtain a space reservation by calling 625-2737 or visiting www.howardfire.com. They must have individual liability insurance or be willing to purchase one-day coverage.
Since its start, when it attracted almost 9,000 people, the festival has grown like a prime jack-o’-lantern candidate on the vine. About 25,000 people visited last year.
Demchak remembers hoping for a crowd of 500 or so for the debut pumpkin toss, chosen to jazz up the customary fall festival.
Now, there’s so much interest, the company is considering a two-day event with parking shuttles to alleviate traffic congestion.
“We needed something quirky,” Demchak said. “We needed something to draw people here that was unique, and I believe we found it.”