Ice Out declared at 4:34 p.m. on Friday

GILFORD — Dave Emerson of Emerson Aviation at the Laconia Municipal Airport declared official ice-out on Lake Winnipesaukee at 4:34 p.m. Friday.
He said that last ice left was in Wolfeboro Bay — Friday morning and into the early afternoon — but it finally succumbed to strong winds later in the day.
The ice-out came one day later than last year. It went out on April 17 in 2013.
Three years ago the ice went out March 23, the earliest date ever. Ice-out records have been kept ever since 1888, when the ice went out on May 12, the latest date ever.
It was the 10th time that ice-out has been declared on April 24.
The most frequent ice-out date is April 20, which has happened 11 times. The ice has gone out nine times on April 23 and seven times on April 25.
In the 1970s, the late William Widger of Biospheric Consultants International, which was then based in Meredith, calculated that the average ice out date up until that decade was April 22.
Ice-out traditionally marks the start of the boating season on Lake Winnipesaukee. It  is declared when the M/S Mount Washington cruise ship can reach all of its ports of call on the lake: Wolfeboro, Alton Bay, Weirs Beach, Center Harbor and Meredith.

Merchants know festival was great for Keene but pumpkin fatigue may have set in

LACONIA — It is with a mix of relief and regret that a couple of people who work on Keene's Main Street receive the news that the New Hampshire Pumpkin Festival will be held in Laconia for its 25th year, instead of in the city that saw the event grow from a small community gathering to a celebration that drew tens of thousands of visitors each fall.

Jennifer Parenteau, a lifelong resident of Keene, works at Prime Roast Coffee Company. She has fond memories of the festival. "It started when my son was one year old. We've always got to it, it was community-building, everyone looked forward to it. It was wonderful." She remembered how local school children would carve pumpkins for display and most participants came from local communities.

With each year, the pumpkin festival attracted more visitors to Keene. As it grew, Parenteau said it retained its "nice" feeling. "Happy and crowded," she said.

Dean Eaton has owned Your Kitchen Store, on Keene's Main Street, for 24 years. He said the pumpkin festival "was spectacular... It was a wonderful event." He said the festival "certainly put Keene on the map".

Not only was it good for Keene's publicity, it was also a boon to Main Street businesses, said Eaton. Only during the height of Christmas shopping season would his store do more business.

At the coffee shop, Parenteau said the festival "was the best day of the year — crazy busy." The level of business was such that it could be overwhelming at times. "We didn't know how to handle it."

Then there was the traffic and the congestion. In recent years, Parenteau said, visitors from out-of-town packed the city for the weekend, leaving many local residents to stay home and wait for the event to be over. "It got to be too big of a hassle. You couldn't move around for those three days." So, she suspects many residents are glad to see the event move to Laconia. "People got tired of it."

Fatigue turned to exasperation after violence broke out during last year's event. A large party of college-aged young adults, hosted near the Keene State campus, erupted into a riot, leaving behind property damage and resulting in more than 100 arrests. The chaos was limited to the student housing neighborhoods near the college and didn't affect those enjoying the events on Main Street. Even so, the city of Keene declined to issue a permit to allow the festival to be held there for a 25th year.

"I think the city made the right decision," said Eaton. "A lot of people's safety was in jeopardy last year." The city could have taken steps to ensure public safety this year, but only with the sizable expenditure of tax dollars, something Eaton didn't support.

He didn't expect Laconia to experience similar problems. "Without a college town, that never would have happened. And, of course, Laconia is used to handling large crowds."

The website for Let It Shine!, the non-profit organization the puts on the festival, is listing Saturday, October 24 as the date for this year's celebration, to be held in downtown Laconia. (See story on page 1.)

Highlights of the 2014 event included a road race, costume parade, live entertainment and performances, pumpkin bowling, a ferris wheel, and a large tower filled with thousands of lit jack-o-lanterns.

Pumpkin Festival finds new home in Laconia

LACONIA — On Saturday, Oct. 24 the City on the Lakes will be aglow with the flames of thousands of jack-o-lanterns when Laconia plays host to New Hampshire's 25th Annual Pumpkin Festival.

Ruth Sterling of Sterling Design & Communications, who heads the management team for the event, made the announcement yesterday before a gaggle of print and electronic media in the rotunda of the Railroad Station at Veterans Square.

On Wednesday the directors of Let It Shine, Inc., the nonprofit corporation that has produced the event in Keene since 2011, voted to move the festival to Laconia. At the same time, the organization announced its intent to coordinate with towns hosting their festivals on October 17 to "(preserve) refrigerate and deliver their pumpkins to Laconia as part of a statewide effort to rise above and heal."

Sterling also announced that Zippo, makers of the lighters that light the 30,000 plus pumpkins, has committed to continue as the presenting sponsor of the festival. She said that the arrangement with Laconia is for 2015. "We'll see what happens and take one year at a time," she added.

Let It Shine reached its decision 20 days after the Keene City Council voted 13 to 1 to deny it a license to stage the event in the city where it has been held every year since 1991. City officials chose to suspend the festival after rioting on the campus of Keene State College coincided with the festival last October, raising concerns about the cost of ensuring public safety at future events.

Recalling that the event has set world records, won a cash prize, been named best specialty food event and inspired Newtown, Connecticut to seek solace with a similar festival, Sterling asked "if someone told you it was over, what would you do?" She answered "we'd hope for a miracle" and declared "that's just what happened." She explained that Charlie St. Clair, executive director of the Laconia Motorcycle Week Association, determined that "not on my watch" would the festival be lost.

As the Keene City Council debated the future of the festival, St. Clair spoke on its behalf, drawing on his experience with Motorcycle Week to assure officials that the event could be held without risking the safety of the public. When the council decided otherwise, St. Clair, together with Karmen Gifford, executive director of the Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce, and Amy Landers of the Lakes Region Tourism Association, offered Laconia as a venue for the festival.

Meanwhile, more than 15 cities and towns, including Nashua, Portsmouth and Claremont, also expressed interest in hosting the event. But, after spending a day in Laconia a week ago, Sterling announced "right now, thanks to Charlie St. Clair, all roads lead to Laconia," a remark confirmed by her announcement yesterday.

Mayor Ed Engler, who was accompanied by four of the six city councilors — David Bownes (Ward 2), Brenda Baer (Ward 4), Bob Hamel (Ward 5) and Armand Bolduc (Ward 6) — and had spoken with councilors Ava Doyle (Ward 1) and Henry Lipman (Ward 3) , said that the council unanimously and enthusiastically endorsed and supported the festival. He noted that when children ask for things, parents often reply "we'll see," but insisted "our attitude in Laconia is not 'we'll see' but 'will do.'"

Gifford said that the chamber of commerce will hold the special events permit for the festival. The chamber serves members in 18 municipalities in the region and she expects to engage businesses and nonprofit organizations in setting the agenda for the festival. "We want to carve out opportunities for all our local businesses and nonprofits," she said.

"Our first goals," said Sterling, "are a spectacular, safe, family-friendly event bringing scores of visitors to enjoy the Laconia downtown and surroundings."