New school athletic facilities mean changes for 2024 Pumpkin Festival

New throwing apparatus is located in a space that held much of last year's Pumpkin Festival entertainment - including the Southern New England Witch Dancers

NORTH SMITHFIELD – Updates to the North Smithfield High School and Middle School athletic facilities over the past year are likely to necessitate changes in 2024 to the layout of a popular annual event that takes place on the fields and open space that make up school grounds.

Chairperson Elizabeth Featherston said that the Great Annual Pumpkin Festival will go on as planned, although it is unclear if she’ll be able to accommodate the usual number of vendors. The growing family event, which features food, shopping, entertainment and activities for thousands of guests each year, included some 120 booths in 2023.

“We don’t know what’s going to be off limits right now,” Featherston told NRI NOW. “We are working to put everything together and do a different setup.”

The changes come as the result of improvements to school athletic facilities that include a resurfaced baseball field, an updated softball field and a new throwing space. The throwing area, situated at the center of a previously open space by one entrance to the fall event, will allow for expansion of the school district’s track and field program. Work now underway will accommodate javelin, discus and shotput between the high school and the middle school.

“I’m very happy for the school and happy for the students, that we have a more robust athletic program,” said Featherston. “We’re flexible so we’ll rearrange things appropriately.”

Featherston noted that plastic fencing will be placed around the equipment to keep out festival goers.

The new apparatus, however, could mean less space for vendors, and Featherston is advising those who hope to participate in the festival to sign up early. She said that 50 vendors have already secured a spot – more than three months in advance of the popular event – scheduled this year for Saturday, Sept. 21.

The chairperson said that the Pumpkin Festival will showcase new vendors, entertainment, food and activities in 2024, with those already signed on including the Generations Barbershop Quartet, a large petting zoo, dozens of local businesses and organizations, and food items such as nachos, barbecue and kettle corn, along with festival staples including hamburgers, hot dogs and apple dumplings.

“We may have to say, ‘no,’ to some people if we can’t fit them in,” Featherston said, noting that vendor placement comes on a first come, first serve basis. Of the area holding improved fields and apparatus she added, “Those were used for vendor space. Logically, you can’t fit as much in.”

The changes may also affect setup for the event, with the throwing area now located where vehicles once brought in supplies.

“We’ll probably have a different configuration,” she said.

In future years, more improvements on the horizon for school facilities could also be a positive development for the event.

“I’m glad to hear that they’re working on parking,” said Featherston, pointing to an effort underway to expand school parking lots.

She noted that the popularity of the Pumpkin Festival is tied to continued family and community involvement.

“We are definitely a growing family town,” Featherston said. “I think that’s the thing I love about it the most. It’s really kind of exciting that the town is just a good place to be for families.”

“It’s a family festival that brings the town together,” she added.

Featherston noted that more volunteers – and new ideas on how to continue to improve the event – are always welcomed.

The community event raises funds for graduating high school seniors as well as non-profits, with grant applications due this year by October 1. This week, NSHS senior Grace Lane, who will attend Tufts University this fall, was awarded $1,000.

The cost to participate with a 12 x 12 booth is $65 for businesses and $35 for non-profit organizations. Applications can be filled out online here.

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