By Britney Milazzo
UNIVERSITY PARK — There is no shortage of creativity when it comes to the pumpkin-carving contest during the Pumpkin Festival each October at The Arboretum at Penn State’s H.O. Smith Botanic Gardens.
The idea to host a Pumpkin Festival came three years ago when Andrew Gapinski, a horticulturist at the arboretum, wanted to create an event that mimicked one he grew up with in Wisconsin.
It also was a way to get the community involved in the gardens, said arboretum administrative assistant Cathy Kennedy.
“That’s part of the wonder of the Arboretum, and we want to create memories to bring people back,” she said.
The weeklong festival will begin Sunday. Admission and parking are free to the public, and will include the lauded pumpkin-carving contest and lighted jack-o’-lantern display Thursday and Friday night that attracts about 3,000 people, Kennedy said.
In the festival’s first year, 500 pumpkins were given away for the contest. This year, Kennedy said, 750 pumpkins will be given away to contest entrants. The pumpkin giveaway is on a first-come, first-served basis; however, people are allowed to bring their own pumpkins.
The pumpkins are carted to The Arboretum from Rock Springs Research Farm, Kennedy said.
A panel of judges will award ribbons for the top three jack-o’-lanterns in seven categories: a ges 2 to 4, ages 5 to 7, ages 8 to 10, ages 11 to 13, ages 14 to 17, Penn State student and adult. Other awards will be given to best in show, the best jack-o’-lantern face, the best Penn State theme and the best Arboretum theme, Kennedy said.
Judges this year include Centre Region Fire Director Steve Bair; Barb Christ, interim dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences; State College Mayor Elizabeth Goreham; Vice President and Dean for Undergraduate Education Rob Pangborn; Vice President for Student Affairs Damon Sims; Donnan Stoicovy, lead learner at Park Forest Elementary School; and Graeme Sullivan, director of the School of Visual Arts.
On Oct. 19 from 4 p.m. to dusk, additional activities will be held at the Arboretum, such as corn-husk doll and scarecrow making.
“This is our first year with a couple of these activities, but it’s a nice way to get people to be more hands on,” Kennedy said.
The scarecrows will be showcased at the Arboretum garden, Kennedy added.
“The Pumpkin Fest is a big deal,” Kennedy said. “It’s one of our biggest community events and a way to get people to enjoy the botanical gardens.”
After the event, contestants can pick up their pumpkins on Oct. 20, or donate them to Penn State to be used for compost.