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Pumpkin Festival in full swing in Milton

Oct. 04, 2007 @ 07:13 AM

MILTON -- You can tell it by the smell of wood smoke from the mountain men camp, the smell of freshly-turned apple butter and the migration of dozens of yellow school buses: The 22nd annual West Virginia Pumpkin Festival has begun.

Weigh-ins for the giant pumpkins were 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday and continue from 7 to 8 a.m. today at the West Virginia Pumpkin Park, located off of James River Turnpike.

The giants will be in place just in time as gates open at 9 a.m. for the hordes of school kids set to visit the festival over the next two days.

The festival runs today through Sunday.

Gates open at 9 a.m. daily.

Admission is $5, children under 6 get in free to the Pumpkin Fest, one of West Virginia's largest festivals, which draws about 50,000 people to Milton.

Today and Friday, the fest has more than 100 school groups from all over the state out at the park learning about the old ways, and having some fun with everything from pumpkin carving to a scavenger hunt.

Barbara Brooks, the secretary for the Pumpkin Festival, said it's essential for students to get out and get a hands-on look at how things are made.

"Most kids now don't grow up on a farm, and even if they do, farms aren't what they used to be," Brooks said. "In the arts and crafts booth, we've got weavers and soap makers and things like that, so they can actually see how a lot of things are made. They get to see it for themselves instead of it just coming from Wal-Mart or Kmart."

The Pumpkin Festival will also have more than 100 juried arts and crafts vendors from around the region, making it one of the biggest and best arts and crafts showcases in West Virginia.

"I think we have an extra 20 arts and crafts people under there this year," Brooks said. "A lot of these people are actually doing things and are not just selling their stuff but doing it as they go."

Of course, you can't mention the Pumpkin Festival without talk of all the pumpkin-filled food.

Boyd Meadows will have a pumpkin tent that has a bakery with pumpkin rolls, pumpkin pie and just about anything else pumpkin.

Also, there are more than 25 food vendors selling everything from funnel cakes and fair food to pumpkin ice cream and homemade comfort food from homemade barbecue to pinto beans and cornbread.

Brooks said one important by-product of the festival is that the festival booth that sells T-shirts, sweatshirts, aprons, field bags, larger tote bags, cookbooks, raises money for the scholarship fund.

A Sunday auction also adds to that fund as well.

Last year, the festival gave away three $2,000 scholarships to students from around West Virginia.

"The applications are sent out statewide to schools because it has become a statewide festival," Brooks said. "We're one of the largest events outside the state fair. I think we're bigger than Ripley (arts and crafts fair) now."

Beside the scholarship booth, there will be a Cinderella pumpkin carriage that kids can get dressed up in and get their pictures made.

Brooks said they hope those massive pumpkins will still be incoming in spite of the drought-like conditions across the region.

Last year, the giant pumpkin weighed in at 941 pounds.

The year before, a pumpkin from Tyler County in northern West Virginia broke the 1,000-pound mark (1,085) smashing the old West Virginia Pumpkin Festival record by several hundred pounds.

As much as it showcases gargantuan gourds, the Pumpkin Festival also shines a light on a wide range of local talent.

If you're a budding singer, you can also grab the mic, as Ernst Entertainment is providing karaoke from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday and Friday.

On Saturday, area talent can battle during Pumpkin Idol, a singing contest for singers ages 12 to 28 that starts at 1 p.m., and 2:15 p.m.

The finals of Pumpkin Idol are set for 5 p.m., with a showdown of the top three singers.

Musical acts run from the Kenny Booth Band, which cranks up progressive rock, to some of the best young country acts in the region, such as Traci Ann Stanley and Ashton Ernst.

Stanley, of Prichard, has opened up for a number of national acts including Ty Herndon, Grandstaff, Daryle Singletary and Josh Gracin.

This summer, she racked up gigs at the Poage Landing Days as well as opening for Kellie Pickler before an overflow crowd at the Lawrence County Fair.

"It's been a really great summer," Stanley said. "My overall network has gotten so huge. It's such a blessing in so many ways. It's getting to the point that people are calling me to say there's a spot. I'm just honored to have people contact me to be a part of such awesome events."

A songwriter who has been hosting songwriter nights in Huntington, Stanley is excited to share her songs such as "Take You Back," And "Glass of Wine," with the large crowds at the Pumpkin Fest.

Although she's been going to the festival since she was about 5, this is her first time to play the super-sized Pumpkin Fest.

"I have always loved the music they have in that real nice steady stream throughout the day," Stanley said. "It makes for a nice ambiance for the festival in general and with such fond memories of it for so long, it's really neat to actually be a part of it this year."