NORTH SMITHFIELD – When it comes to family fun, organizers point out that North Smithfield’s annual Great Pumpkin Festival is just about the best deal you can find, not just in the Blackstone Valley, but in most of New England.
The festival, now in its 13th year, draws in around 5,000 to 6,000 guests annually with an impressive array of free activities and entertainment.
“It is the most unique event in the area because of the admission fee and the free activities,” said festival Chairperson Elizabeth Featherston. “It is the most fun family event that we have in this area.”
Featherston noted that while she loves going to classic New England festivals like the Big E and Apple Fest, at many, guests pay large entry fees followed by additional costs for any games or rides. At Pumpkinfest, much of that is free.
And the money you do spend at the community event typically goes back into the town – thanks to an emphasis on non-profit vendors.
“It’s not going to the coffers of the carnival,” she said.
The festival returns to the grounds of North Smithfield High School and Middle School on Saturday, Sept. 21 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., bringing with it free those activities including mini golf, a dunk tank, a fire safety smoke house, a giant Candy Land game, a craft table, bowling, a basketball shootout, a three-legged race, giant bubbles and more.
“There’s a lot of absolutely free stuff,” said Featherston. “You literally can do all of those things for free.”
But that’s just the start of what the festival has to offer, for a low entry fee of $1 – $2. Pumpkinfest buttons serve as tickets to the event, cost just $1 in advance or $2 at the gate, and can be purchased at many local business listed here on the event info page.
That money also goes back to the community in the form of scholarships and sponsorships of senior projects.
The event has expanded nearly every year since its inception, and 2019 is no exception. Featherston said that some 99 vendors have signed on this year, up from 87 in 2018.
With warm, sunny weather expected on Saturday, she said that new attendees should give the festival a try.
“I’m hoping for a big crowd,” she said.
Featherston, the chairperson since 2017, is sharing the duties this year with a co-chairperson, town fire marshal Brian Gartland.
“He really stepped up and helped out,” she said.
And of course, Featherston said, there will be pumpkins.
The festival includes a pumpkin pie bakeoff, and the ever-popular trebuchet, operated by volunteers from Camp Phoenix with pumpkins donated by Goodwin Brothers Farm Stand.. Guests will have the opportunity to chuck a pumpkin across school grounds for the chance to win a prize.
There’s also free activities for toddlers at the children’s pumpkin patch including ring toss, tic tac toe and dress up.
“A lot of the time, you go to a festival, and you have to be four feet tall to do anything,” said Featherston. “We try to give them an area.”
New features at Pumpkinfest in 2019 include a sand box where kids can dig for hidden prizes, sponsored by Holliston Sand, and a remote control car speedway courtesy of Rock N Roll Racing.
Free entertainment throughout the day includes music by Burrillville’s Charlie Marie, Colt and the Coyotes and the Jesse Liam Band, plus demonstrations by martial arts and dance groups.
The festival is also a chance for local organizations to raise needed funds, with schools, churches and scouting groups peddling their own crafts, foods and activities.
When Featherston took over three years ago, the committee started giving out scholarships to qualifying high school seniors, and those have grown monetarily with the help of donors. Now, Pumpkinfest also sponsors senior projects that benefit local youth. Those interested in sponsorships or grants can download applications at http://www.greatpumpkinfestival.org/FormDownloads.aspx
Decisions will be made by the committee in October.
It is all thanks to the hard work of not only members of the Pumpkinfest Committee, but also the town’s Department of Public Works, the Police Department, and Fire and Rescue.
Featherston said volunteers are still needed for Saturday, particularly for the 2 to 5 p.m. shift, and the PumpkinFest Committee is always looking for new members. The committee meets once a months from February through August for about an hour.
“We would love to have some people step up and help us,” Featherston said.
Pets, she notes, are not allowed at the event.
In past years, Pumpkinfest was followed by a Northmen football game on the nearby field, but the game has been cancelled this year over concerns about eastern equine encephalitis.
“We’re really excited for a really fun day,” Featherston said.