NORTH SMITHFIELD – With unique activities from a pumpkin-chucking trebuchet, to rides on ponies or in a hot air balloon, North Smithfield’s annual Great Pumpkin Festival has evolved into much more than your typical fall fair.
The annual community event that began in 2006 is now entering its 14th year – delayed once around by COVID-19 – and returning to the grounds of North Smithfield High School on Saturday, Sept. 18.
The 2019 event attracted more than 4,000 visitors, and featured two stages of entertainment and 100 plus vendors, many of which were local non-profits.
Started as as a way to help those non-profits, along with victims of Hurricane Katrina, the festival remains family and community-focused, with a low entry fee and dozens of free, hands-on activities.
Chairperson Elizabeth Featherston said she’s expecting most – if not all – of the fun to return in 2021 – pending the latest guidance from the Rhode Island Department of Health.
“Because of the way the state is opening back up, a lot of the vendors are waiting a little longer to confirm,” Featherston explained.
Still, things look promising, she noted. More than 30 vendors have already signed on just by word-of-mouth and many others have indicated interest, with their spots reserved – from bounce houses and food booths, to DIY crafting activities, life-sized versions of board games, and challenges such as bowling and golf.
“I’m excited to get everybody back and hopefully have some normalcy,” Featherston said. “We were totally prepared for the state to say, ‘no you can’t do it,’ and we were going to push it into later in the fall.”
She noted that the large grounds at the high school mean that the 2021 festival can include space between booths, and organizers had already made efforts add extra hand washing stations, and make hand sanitizer available to visitors in 2019.
“That’s something that will continue this year,” Featherston said. “We have plenty of room. We’ll follow whatever directions the state of Rhode Island gives us to follow.”
And it seems the Pumpkinfest Committee did not waste the down time in 2020.
The festival has a new, upgraded website that allows vendors to secure their spots and send payment online. Meeting dates are listed and anyone is welcome to join in via Zoom to ask questions, give suggestions, or even just watch the planning.
The website also includes links to volunteer for the event or to join the committee. Featherston, the chairperson of the festival since 2016, leads a core group of around eight dedicated committee members, and notes that more are always needed, and welcome.
“We would love to have new volunteers who bring new ideas,” she said. “We’re open to suggestions on new and exciting things for kids and families to do.”
The festival also attracts a core group of returning vendors, like Jim McDonald, a North Smithfield residents who has been bringing his carnival folk art display to Pumpkinfest for the past 13 years.
McDonald, who is in his late 90s, occupies the same space each year with his antique miniature carnival, and will do so again in 2021.
“We’re excited to have him back,” said Featherston. “We enjoy having him.”
Also returning for a third year is the popular pumpkin pie baking contest.
“Everyone should break out their recipes and brush up on their baking skills before September,” Featherston said.
Festival buttons – which serve as tickets for admission – can be pre-purchase for just $1 at local businesses starting July 1, and will also be available at the gates on the day of the event for $2 each. Buttons will be available at Wright’s Dairy, R & D Seafood, Slatersville Walgreens, ‘Lil General, North Smithfield Town Hall, Goodwin Bros. Farm and BL Beauty.
Right now, the chairperson said, the focus is vendors, and applications to participate are due by August 25. The cost to participate is $35 for non-profits and $65 for for profit businesses and all can apply at https://www.greatpumpkinfestival.org/get-a-booth to secure a 12 x 12 space.
“We’re looking for some good food,” Featherston said.
Sponsors are also welcome, and Featherston noted that with their help, the committee was able to help out its two major causes – senior scholarships and grants for non-profits – despite not holding the event in 2020.
“We have so many sponsors that are so awesome to us,” she said. “We’ve just had such a great outpouring, and we’ve continued to have people stepping up.”
All North Smithfield seniors going on to higher education are eligible for the PumpkinFest Scholarship with two given out each year. Students will find a link to apply at https://www.greatpumpkinfestival.org/scholarshipscan, and the website also features a link to the grant application.
To see past sponsors, or apply to become a sponsor visit https://www.greatpumpkinfestival.org/sponsors.
The website also includes a map depicting the festival layout in 2019, which Featherston noted will be updated prior to the 2021 event to avoid confusion.
The Great Pumpkin Festival will take place on Saturday, Sept. 18 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the grounds of North Smithfield High School, and organizers say the event promises to bring back the good times and sense of community that make the town so unique.
“We’re really excited and looking forward to getting back out there with the people,” Festherston said. “It’s a fun time.”