58th annual Barnesville Pumpkin Fest kicks off

T-L Photo/CARRI GRAHAM Times Leader Managing Editor Jennifer Compston-Strough, flanked by Mayor Dale Bunting and the royal court, cuts the Barnesville Pumpkin Festival ribbon during Thursday’s opening ceremony.

BARNESVILLE– A crowd gathered Thursday as the 58th annual Barnesville Pumpkin Festival officially kicked off with its opening ceremony.

A number of Belmont County officials and festival committee members held the orange ribbon as The Times Leader’s own Managing Editor Jennifer Compston-Strough helped to signal the start of the festivities by cutting the ribbon at this year’s ceremony. Compston-Strough, a native of the village who now resides in Belmont, has always held a special place in her heart for the festival.

“I was incredibly honored to be asked to be an official part of the festival,” Compston-Strough said. “The Pumpkin Festival is a local tradition, and you should visit this weekend if you can.”

Following the cutting of the ribbon, a presentation of the festival queen, princess and mini miss was conducted.

This year’s court, crowned Sunday, includes Mini Miss Harmony Hildebrand, 7, of Shadyside; Princess Bre’lan Schnegg, 12, of Barnesville; and Queen Madelyn Skinner, 18, of Barnesville.

The girls will represent the festival in Barnesville and while traveling around to other festivals and events for the next year.

Trophies were then presented to this year’s heaviest pumpkin growers.

The King Pumpkin trophy was presented to Eric Gunstrom of Harrison City, Pennsylvania, who grew a massive gourd that weighed in at 2,405 pounds.

John Rataiczak, the voice of the festival, said the gourd not only broke the Pennsylvania state record but is currently the largest pumpkin in the world.

In second place were Dave and Carol Stelts of Enon Valley, Pennsylvania, but they were not present to accept the trophy for their 2,069-pound pumpkin. Third place went to Todd and Donna Skinner of Barnesville, whose pumpkin weighed 2,068 pounds. The Skinners also took home the Founders Cup for having the largest locally grown pumpkin.

All three of the pumpkins will remain on display throughout the festival.

Festival President Tim Rockwell said the festival is full of fun, activities and plenty of pumpkin treats for people of all ages. There are around 50 vendors at the event, food stands, amusement rides and activities.

Though it has been a bit hectic leading up to the festival, Rockewell said he is happy it’s finally here. The event always feels like a family reunion, he said.

“It’s great seeing everybody. I see people here that don’t come home for Christmas or Thanksgiving but I see them at the pumpkin festival. … There’s a lot of food, a lot of friends, and a lot of activities. It’s always a great time to come down and visit with friends, make new friends and have a good time,” he said. “It’s all free, you don’t have to spend a dime if you don’t want to.”

Rockwell, who works alongside a committee of volunteers, said they are always working to make the festival “bigger and better.”

“We’re always trying to upgrade and make things look nice. They’ve (the village) taken some old buildings down and we’re trying to expand and put in more vendors and more activities, things to do, things to see,” he said, adding that he is hoping to open up the event further next year.

“We’re always looking ahead to make it bigger and better.”

There are a few new amusement rides this year and food stands, he said.

Jill Hissom, director of the Barnesville Area Chamber of Commerce, said she anticipates another great year for the festival with plenty of activities to keep attendees busy this weekend.

“The weather is looking good, and we’re expecting a large crowd this weekend. We’re super excited because it helps promote all of our stores here in Barnesville because as always we eat, shop and support local,” she said.

Hissom said her favorite aspect of the festival is being able to see everyone and checking out all the pumpkin food and crafts.

“A lot of people come in town for this,” she said. “I love walking around and seeing the different things that they make with pumpkin, whether it’s crafts or food.”

Each year the chamber has a pumpkin wagon at the festival where representatives sell pumpkin sweats such as pie, doughnuts and ice cream.

“We hope that everyone comes out and checks out the Pumpkin Festival, especially if you’ve never been here. There’s something to do for everyone,” she said.

The annual fest typically brings in around 100,000 people during the span of the event, which runs through Sunday in downtown Barnesville.


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