Pumpkins line the walkway in Rotary Park, next to the Belknap Mill, in advance of the New Hampshire Pumpkin Festival in 2015. The 2018 version of the festival is Friday, Oct. 12, and Saturday, Oct. 13. (Courtesy photo)

LACONIA — With a little more than a week until Laconia hosts the 2018 NH Pumpkin Festival, the event organizer is putting out a call for volunteers by the dozen and pumpkins by the score, especially since it looks like this year will eclipse last year’s record turnout of 40,000.

“Definitely the focus right now is pumpkins, we want to remind people to be sure to carve one,” said Karment Gifford, president of the Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce and the organizer of the Pumpkin Festival, taking place this year on the evening of Friday, Oct. 12 and all day on Saturday, Oct. 13.

The goal of the pumpkin festival is to fill downtown Laconia with carved pumpkins – which will fill a tower and line the streets – as a testament to the creativity of local residents and visitors. Gifford encouraged local residents to get a pumpkin they can carve at home and bring to the 34-foot tower, which will be erected at the top of Main Street, between the train station and library.

Alternatively, pumpkins can be brought in their natural state into downtown, then carved at the ClearChoiceMD Carving Station in Veterans Square.

“If they don’t want the mess, we’ll provide the tools and clean up for them,” Gifford said.

In addition to the pumpkins, Gifford hopes many carvers will also sign up to help facilitate the festival. Helpers are needed at the carving station, for the cleanup derby, and other tasks. Volunteers can sign up as individuals or as a group, for as little as two hours or as much as all day. Those interested should call the Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce.

Big crowd expected

With fair weather in the long-range forecast, Gifford said the 2018 crowd could  exceed last year’s high-water mark of an estimated 40,000 people.

She already has 78 vendors signed up – only 50 came last year – and the festival’s social media engagement has similarly increased. There will be more amusement rides, too.

“People are definitely finding us and reaching out,” she said.

Lots to do

In addition to surveying all of the jack-o-lanterns, there will be many activities taking place downtown on Friday and Saturday.

Friday night will offer live music, food and drink at the Pumpkin Festival Beer Garden, and the “Zombie Walk” will lurch through downtown starting at 6:30 p.m.

Saturday starts with the Runaway Pumpkin 10k and 5k, and a pancake breakfast served at Holy Trinity School. Both begin at 9 a.m.

Live music will begin on the downtown stage at noon, and will continue to 8 p.m.

Favorites from previous years are returning, such as horse-drawn wagon rides, kids’ activities in the Mill Street pedestrian walkway, a cook-off and duck derby at the Belknap Mill, and the “Amazing Race” challenge for which, since participation is limited, early registration is urged.

New this year is a cornhole tournament on Main Street, more music stages and amusement rides, and the Jumpin’ Jack Car Show on Beacon Street West.

And, of particular excitement to Gifford, one of the cannons from the upcoming “Punkin’ Chunkin’” event at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway will be on display. It’s capable of launching a gourd with a barrel velocity of 700 miles per hour, but you’ll have to go to Loudon the following weekend to see it in action.

No ticket required

“One of the most frequent question we get is, ‘Where do we buy tickets?’ It’s a street festival, it’s free admission, we want them to just explore,” Gifford said.

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