The organizers of the Damariscotta Pumpkinfest have canceled the 2020 festival, but still plan to distribute giant pumpkin seedlings. Meanwhile, another organization will host a weigh-off in the fall.
The Damariscotta Pumpkinfest & Regatta Committee “has been closely monitoring the COVID-19 Pandemic in hopes that we would be able to safely host all the activities that lead up to our annual events in October,” the committee said in a statement Monday, May 4. Based on Gov. Janet Mills’ April 28 announcement of a four-stage plan to reopen the state’s economy, the committee “reluctantly made the decision to cancel the 2020 festival.”
Committee member Jed Weiss said that in order for Pumpkinfest to take place, Maine would have to be in stage four of Mills’ plan, which has no set date.
Stage four will lift statewide restrictions and allow all activities to resume with appropriate safety precautions.
“The parade, there’s usually 3,000-4,000 people here. The regatta, there’s 3,000-4,000 people. The drop, there’s a couple thousand people there. To have any kind of mass gatherings like that would have to be what the governor referred to as phase four, and there’s no date for that. And she made that very clear that that’s a moving target,” Weiss said in a phone interview Tuesday, May 5.
Weiss said the committee plans to continue Pumpkinfest’s mission to educate the public about the science of growing giant pumpkins by continuing to distribute seedlings and engage with giant pumpkin growers throughout the season.
Free giant pumpkin seedlings will be available for no-contact pickup from May 16-30 at Pinkham’s Plantation, 431 Biscay Road, Damariscotta; and Louis Doe Home Center, 92 Mills Road, Newcastle.
Weiss said information about growing giant pumpkins is available at mainepumpkinfest.com. Volunteers will monitor the festival’s Facebook and Instagram pages to answer questions and provide feedback for growers.
Weiss said the Pumpkinfest committee will continue to meet by videoconference, engage with the community, and plan for the 2021 Pumpkinfest, with major events scheduled for the weekend of Oct. 9-11.
“We will miss working with and having fun with everyone this year, including our friends, family, neighbors, volunteers, visitors, business sponsors, non-profit organizations, vendors, and especially our home and professional growers,” the committee said in its statement.
Bill Clark and Buzz Pinkham, who founded Damariscotta Pumpkinfest in 2006 and continue to serve on the committee, are members of the Maine Pumpkin Growers Association and plan to hold the annual giant pumpkin weigh-off at Pinkham’s Plantation this year, separate from Pumpkinfest.
The weigh-off will allow growers to showcase their pumpkins while taking whatever coronavirus precautions are necessary or required at the time, Weiss said. The weigh-off will be a Maine Pumpkin Growers Association event.
“We want to keep the pumpkin-growing spirit alive,” Pinkham said in a phone interview Tuesday. “Over the years, we’ve worked hard to cultivate community growers. We want them to work hard on growing their pumpkins this summer.”
The Damariscotta Pumpkinfest involves numerous individual events that culminate with a weekend of festivities in October, including pumpkin-boat races. The festival attracts thousands of visitors to the Twin Villages and beyond.
The cancellation of the festival will deliver another blow to the local economy as businesses weather a tough spring and prepare for a summer expected to see much less tourism than usual.
Damariscotta Region Chamber of Commerce President John Roberts said by email that he thinks the committee made the “best decision for the region with the current information and restrictions in place.”
“While this will be an additional blow to the local economy, Pumpkinfest is looking out for its sponsors and the health of its visitors. The disruptions for COVID-19 have been extreme, and it highlights how important it is for all of us to continue to support our local businesses so we can all come through this together. We look forward to welcoming Pumpkinfest back next year,” Roberts said.
Damariscotta Town Manager Matt Lutkus also expressed concern for local businesses and said the decision to cancel the festival must have been difficult for the committee.
“I know that many people will be disappointed. The event has established itself (as) a highlight of the fall season for northern New England and has become known nationally,” Lutkus said in an email Tuesday. “Obviously, it will be another financial hit for our business community after what may be a lackluster visitor season, but what many of us will miss is seeing the joy that all of the events bring to children and their families who come from all over to visit our wonderful village.”