Claremont Group Makes Pitch For City To Host Keene Pumpkin Festival

Apr 21, 2015

The Keene Pumpkin Festival in 2009
Credit Robert Wilson/flickr

After Keene officials rejected the license for the city’s annual Pumpkin Festival earlier this month, there’s been no shortage of other Granite State communities vying to host the event.

Laconia, Exeter, Franklin and Portsmouth are among those said to be interested.

And in Claremont, a citizens group has been meeting regularly to come up with a formal proposal.

That group is set to bring its proposal before the Claremont City Council tomorrow night.

Michael Charest heads up the Claremont Citizens Group.

He joined Morning Edition to talk about the proposal.

So for you, what makes Claremont the ideal home for this event, over say the other cities that are said to be interested?

Claremont is located 28 miles north of Keene and we’re in southwestern New Hampshire. What we’re looking to do is continue the tradition of an iconic event, that being the Keene Pumpkin Festival. Since their city council decided to forego that any further, it only makes logistical and geographic sense to just move it up the road 28 miles.

You want to keep it a regional event?

Very much keep it a regional event.

Do you see this as recreating the Keene Pumpkin Festival in Claremont, or coming up with a new event with its own identity?

We’re actually looking to go off the coattails of Let It Shine and their pumpkin festival. We’re looking very seriously at maybe changing the name slightly and we’re also going to bring in some different events.

Different events in what way?

Some of the events we’re talking about are scarecrow contests, pumpkin contests of different calibers and types, throwing pumpkins. We’re also looking into the possibility of a pumpkin carriage for kids and tie it in with Cinderella.

Michael Charest with the Claremont Citizens Group.
Credit Michael Brindley for NHPR

You’ve talked with Ruth Sterling, the head of Let It Shine, the group that runs the Keene Pumpkin Festival. What have you heard about a possible collaboration?

We actually met with Ruth. She came to our meeting Saturday. She came up from Keene and I understand she was in Laconia on Thursday. So she’s been making the rounds and she’s supposed to be making a formal announcement as to what city they would like to move their operation to.

What’s going to be your pitch to city councilors at tomorrow night’s meeting?

Anything we can do to bring a large crowd of individuals into Claremont is a good thing. It gives Claremont exposure. It gives business owners and individuals who are bringing their families to a family event an opportunity to see the infrastructure; to see the beauty and to see the location of Claremont.

There have already been some in Claremont raising concerns. Mayor James Nielsen says he’s worried about the festival using up police, fire and highway department resources.

What’s your response? Would there be a cost to the community?

The cost to the community we believe is going to be nil and the reason for that is we’re actually taking on fundraising ourselves. We also have a quote from police Chief Alex Scott, who is very confident they can handle the festival.

Obviously, there’s concern about the riots from last year in Keene. What does the chief and people in the community say about that?

Claremont
Credit NHPR Staff

Everybody in the community is of the same like mind as we are: we don’t have Keene State College and we don’t have a campus of students living on campus. That in fact was the problem.

When do you think a decision would need to be made to be able to have enough time to plan for an event this fall?

We are exactly five months and 27 days from the date we want to hold it, which is October 17.

So the goal here is for your group to move forward either way, whether Let It Shine participates and the pumpkin festival comes to Claremont, you want to move forward with your own event?

Absolutely, and it will be a pumpkin festival, but it would be the Claremont Pumpkin Festival.