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Giant Pumpkin Festival draws hundreds to Saratoga

Giant Pumpkin Festival draws hundreds to Saratoga

Competitors attracted from throughout the Northeast, many with half-ton gourds
Giant Pumpkin Festival draws hundreds to Saratoga
Tony Hoffman, of Hadley (left), and Justin Sloan, of Edinburg, measure a pumpkin grown by Karl Haist, of Clarence Center
Photographer: ERICA MILLER/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER

Pumpkin season is in full swing in upstate New York, and fall enthusiasts flocked to Saratoga Springs on Sunday for a fairly new but quickly-evolving tradition: the Saratoga Giant Pumpkinfest

Hundreds of people descended on Saratoga Spa State Park to pose with dozens of autumnal arrangements of pumpkins, gourds and leaves scattered throughout the park, or to catch a glimpse of one of the dozens of humongous pumpkins grown just for the competition.

Hosted by the Saratoga Chamber of Commerce, the competition is open to statewide growers. Other major sponsors included Sunnyside Gardens, Stewart's Shops and Cornell Cooperative Extension

The festival includes a weigh-off, with the grower of the heaviest pumpkin garnering a cash prize. This year, the cash prizes totaled $8,500 across a variety of categories.  

Previously, there was an annual pumpkin-weighing competition held in Cooperstown. That event was ultimately cancelled and the Pumpkinfest has been held in Saratoga for the past three years.

Often, the pumpkins entered into the competition can weigh more than 1,200 lbs. Last season, there were more than 40 giant pumpkins.

The event is free and kid-friendly, and a huge draw for families. Last year, organizers predicated that there were approximately 10,000 visitors, and expected more for this year's edition. Sunday, there were over 70 vendors between the market and the festival, hayrides and other entertainment for children, and even an unexpected marriage proposal.

Farmers arrived from a large swathe of upstate New York and New England early on Saturday morning, lugging the massive pumpkins into the park to set up for the weighing in, which began at 10 a.m. 

Some growers waited until the last possible minute, which means Saturday night or early Sunday morning, to cut their pumpkins, trying to maintain moisture and gain any advantage they could. A majority of the pumpkins are donated once the competition ends.

This year, the event was held at the same time as the Saratoga Farmer's Market, which also drew hundreds. Spectators wandered the park stopping to buy snacks and coffee from vendors or listen to live music before making their way to the makeshift pumpkin patch to snap some pictures with the massive plants.

Bethany Walsh, her husband Dan, and their 9-year-old daughter Emma were making their way down the Avenue of the Pines to the pumpkin festival.

This was the Saratoga Spring family's second time attending the event and they weren't deterred by the sea of cars and people also attempting to get into the park to see the pumpkins.

"The size of the pumpkins themselves is a sight to behold. It's amazing," Bethany Walsh said. 

"We usually come to the market anyway if it's nice enough out," Dan Walsh added.

As the family approached the event, Emma, who was skipping slightly ahead of her parents, announced to her parents and the crowd of people behind them that they were getting closer.

"The pumpkin festival is happening over there today everyone!" she called over her shoulder.

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