The second annual Great Pumpkin Festival promises at least one smash hit this year - that is, with pumpkins launched via catapults.
Pumpkin chunking to hit Great Pumpkin Fest 091212 OUTDOORS 1 Capital City Weekly The second annual Great Pumpkin Festival promises at least one smash hit this year - that is, with pumpkins launched via catapults.

Photo By Sarah Day / Capital City Weekly

Brenda Krauss grows all kinds of varieties of pumpkins and gourds in her garden.

Photo By Sarah Day / Capital City Weekly

Brenda Krauss and her son Theodore Krauss hold up a piece of a catapult they are building with the Montessori school. The Theodore Krauss built a trebuchet (the smaller structure), which can launch a ping-pong ball. It has a 3 pound counterweight. The full-size catapult will be able to launch a 4 pound pumpkin, and the counterweight will be filled with 400 pounds of sand. He estimates it will launch the pumpkin 360 feet.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Story last updated at 9/12/2012 - 2:20 pm

Pumpkin chunking to hit Great Pumpkin Fest

The second annual Great Pumpkin Festival promises at least one smash hit this year - that is, with pumpkins launched via catapults.

New to Juneau's state fair (The Great Pumpkin Festival) is a pumpkin chunking contest (called the Catapult showdown competition here). What exactly is pumpkin chunking? Well, it's the "extreme sport" of building a catapult and launching a pumpkin to reach the furthest distance.

Brenda Krauss, organizer of the event, said last year people kept asking about pumpkin chunking.

"People at the fair kept asking about it," Krauss said. "I never knew about pumpkin chunking. We will have a real section of pumpkin chunking. We will offer some cash prizes, we know it takes some money for the materials. Be safe. We're listing the national rules. There will be a $150 grand prize. All the entrants have a chance to win door prizes. ... Our merchants here in Juneau have been way generous."

The pumpkin chunking will take place at 5:30 p.m. on Sept. 27 at Sandy Beach on Douglas. Entrants check in at 4 p.m., with a stress test at 5 p.m. Entrants take their catapults to the Juneau Arts and Culture Center to be a part of an exhibit and judged for design. Tabletop catapults ($5 fee) can also be entered, or on Sept. 28 from noon to 5 p.m. Contestants can built catapults to launch 2 pound, 4 pound or 8 pound pumpkins (or winter squash).

Safety rules will be enforced, and include operator helmets, goggles and pre-competition stress testing. The backstop will be May Flower Island Causeway, and catapults must be able to skid onto the beach or assemble at the starting line. For a full list of rules to keep in mind when building, see www.punkinchunkin.com/machine-rules

"I'm helping a group from Montessori," Krauss said. "I demonstrate what they can do. Other things to keep in mind are not just safety but being able to break it down and rebuild it as quickly as possible the day of at Sandy Beach."

The cost $25 per entry, spectators watch for free.

The festival will take place from 5-9 p.m. on Sept. 28. at the JACC, and from 10a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sept. 29.

"We're the 6th in the state as far as state fairs go," Krauss said of the order of when state fairs started.

"We thought the community didn't really come together as much as they used to," said Theodore Krauss, Brenda's son, of the reason why they formed the fair.

Krauss said it can be hard for many community groups and individuals to get to the other state fairs and compete.

"For me, I'm a gardener," she said. "I didn't get to garden for a few years, recovering from some pretty serious cancer. I wanted to do something special for kids."

So, she decided to grow pumpkins, but she thought if they were going to go through all that work, why not make it a special community event?

Krauss said the idea was to make it a semi-traditional fair, but not just a transplant of what people think of as a fair in the Lower-48.

"Since it's a brand new fair, it's an opportunity for people to come together and create our own fair," Krauss said.

She encourages people from all cultures living in Juneau and outlying communities to share ideas and pieces of their cultures, to make the fair truly a representation of the community.

Last year, Juneau's Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School Victoria Johnson, who is the Indian Studies specialist, gave a presentation on the history of Tlingit potatoes. Krauss encourages more of those kinds of presentations.

Entries for produce follow the Palmer State Fair rules and regulations. Produce will be weighed by the Department of Transportation's official weights and measures. Some entry categories include largest garden crop/vegetable, vegetables heads, youth and 4-H projects and the great pumpkin weigh-off.

This year, two new things have been added: a "market quality" entry category, and preserves (no meats). Krauss said last year some people went through the trouble of bringing in beautifully stacked carrots and other produce.

Last year, the event was held on one day the first week of October and 1,200 people attended.

Pumpkins and the fall season are the predominant themes of the Great Pumpkin Festival.

It includes a pumpkin pie eating contest, carnival, pumpkin culinary competition, expanded arts competition (fall scene, any medium), cornhusk craft and more. Krauss said that also new this year is pumpkin or squash carving.

Krauss would like to see youth and adult groups get involved in the festival, and are welcome to volunteer on any of the activity days.

Last year, Krauss said, extra kids were needed to man the carnival games booths.

"Kids had just as much fun running the booths as playing," she said.

Entertainment this year will showcase a live auction by the Toastmasters, acoustic bands like the Hillbilly Honey's and the Crusty Old Farts, Percussion of Doum, TAFY, and other youth performers.

Outside of group volunteer opportunities, Krauss emphasized that the festival really needs more board members and volunteers to make this years festival a success.

"It's been a labor of love," she said. "I've made new friends. We Definitely need people to come back to the group, volunteer board. As I have my own medical care and things I need to do. It's the community's group, not my group. I'll help but other people in the community need to help bring it forward."

For more information on the festival, see https://sites.google.com/site/gpfstatefair

Sarah Day is the editor of Capital City Weekly. She may be reached at editor@capweek.com.