There’s excitement in the air with the 19th annual Yadkin Valley Pumpkin Festival coming up Saturday in downtown Elkin.
“To me, this festival kicks off fall,” said Myra Cook, president and CEO of the Yadkin Valley Chamber of Commerce, which sponsors it. “There are the different vendors, music and smells that you always associate with fairs and festivals.
“Children are safely running up and down the streets having fun. Their parents are happy, and they’re going booth to booth buying different homemade things from the vendors.”
And of course, Cook said everyone is amazed by the giant pumpkins and watermelons. “Most children and adults have never seen them that big,” she said. “They’re just in awe and taking pictures.”
Scheduled for 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., the Yadkin Valley Pumpkin Festival is free to the public and will be held rain or shine. Time Sawyer, a popular local band, will be performing in front of the Reeves Theater from 2 to 4 p.m.
Cook said last year’s festival featured about 90 vendors and brought in 5,000 people to downtown Elkin.
The Yadkin Valley Chamber of Commerce started the first annual pumpkin festival in an attempt to draw more visitors to the downtown area, and it’s been growing ever since.
About 90 vendors have signed up again this year, with food vendors to be located in the children’s section starting at Elkin Antiques on South Bridge Street and on the east end of Main Street.
The children’s section will include two new rides: a “Tubs of Fun,” which features several spinning teacup-shaped rides with seats for children, and a trackless train, which will carry 10 to 12 children on the loop from South Bridge to Main streets.
Cook said the inflatables will be back again this year. “Kids love those things,” she said. “Last year, they were jumping up and down, laughing and having the best time.
“We’re lucky to have the man that has them bring them back again this year.”
Also new for children this year will be games and/or activities provided by area nonprofits. “We let them have a free both if they would do something for the children who come,” Cook said.
Sam Lovelace of Sparta, the forklift operator who has been weighing the entries for the Yadkin Valley competition since 2006, said there likely won’t be a pumpkin entry as big as last year’s winner due to the summer’s hot and dry weather in the Piedmont and eastern part of the state.
Danny Vester of Spring Hope won last year’s biggest pumpkin competition with his 1,404-pound entry, which broke a state record. “That was actually the first time he brought one to the weigh-offs,” Lovelace said.
Vester won a second North Carolina record with a 1,296-pound pumpkin he entered in a weigh-off in Culmin, Alabama. Even though it was entered in an Alabama competition, the record is won for the state in which it’s grown, Lovelace said.
Lovelace said Vester is expected to have another pumpkin entry this year, “but I don’t think it will be anything like last year’s due to the extreme heat. It’s been pretty hot and dry in the Piedmont and eastern section of the state.”
H.C. Williams, also from the eastern part of the state, could be a contender for this year’s $1,000 top prize, Lovelace said. “The last I heard, he had a pumpkin that was over 1,000 pounds.”
Williams placed first in the watermelon competition at last year’s Pumpkin Festival with an entry weighing more than 260 pounds. Unlike pumpkins, watermelons thrive in extreme heat.
Cook said the Yadkin Valley Pumpkin Festival is one of only a few nationally-sanctioned pumpkin weighing events. Growers entering it can go on to their local and/or state fairs and win national awards.
Lovelace said he expects overall pumpkin entries to be down from the 20 entered last year due to the weather. While he plans to enter one, he said it won’t be as big as it should have been even with the cooler weather in Sparta because he didn’t plant his soon enough.
Entries for the biggest pumpkin contest will be accepted beginning at 7 a.m. in the parking lot of The Liberty, located at 222. E. Main St. Watermelons, gourds and squash also will be accepted with weigh-ins beginning at 8 a.m.
Lovelace is responsible for strapping the huge pumpkins and watermelons onto the lift and setting them on the official scale. He usually starts with the smallest entries, working his way up to the largest.
To date, he has not dropped one, but has seen that happen at competitions in other areas of the country.
Cook said spectators feel the excitement of the growers when they win and their disappointment when they lose. One last year said of his pumpkin, “Oh, that’s my baby,” she recalled. “I’ve been babying it all year, and it didn’t win.”
Another arrived with her huge pumpkin entry in the back of her truck, Cook said, “When all at once we heard this big crack. It was like a gunshot, and it was her pumpkin cracking. I could have cried. She said, ‘I knew it was going to but I was just hoping it would wait.’”
Lovelace said no one entered the squash and gourd competitions last year and he doesn’t expect many this year. “There are not many people who grow them anymore,” he said.
The competition will likely be over by 2 or 3 p.m., Lovelace said.
Contact Kathy Chaffin at 336-258-4058.