Pumpkin Festival’s future in doubt; help sought

MILFORD – For the first time in its nearly three-decade history, the annual Milford Pumpkin Festival is in trouble, and selectmen have put out a call for help.

Both the Milford Improvement Team and the Souhegan Valley Chamber of Commerce have told the town they will not organize it this year.

Former MIT Director Wendy Hunt organized the Festival for several years, and last year she left that position to become the Chamber’s executive director. As a stop gap, she organized it for 2017, with the Chamber and MIT partnering to host it.

The Chamber voted not to take on the task, selectmen’s Chairman Mark Fougere said at the Jan. 22 board meeting, and MIT is “tired of fighting over the warrant article and a little burnt out.”

Among the options, he said, are to use volunteers, hire someone or form a committee. Ending the festival “is the option that no one wants.

“If no one will run it, it can’t proceed. I would find that a tragedy,” he said. “This is a serious situation, and we will need some people to step up.”

The Festival started in 1990 as a small event to raise money to pay for town hall auditorium restoration.

There were pumpkins for sale and a few people selling arts and crafts and baked goods.

Since then, it has grown into a giant, weekend-long party, spreading across downtown Milford and attracting tens of thousands of people.

Adding to the problem is uncertainty about funding.

The town advisory budget committee has voted not to support this year’s $23,000 Festival warrant article with a vote of 3-6.

That money goes to pay for police, fire, public works and ambulance service at the Festival.

Fougere noted that for its first 12 years, there was no warrant article and the money came from the budget, “where it should be.”

The town’s Deliberative Session is scheduled for 9 a.m. Saturday, and Festival funding is sure to take up a lot of time.

“It always amazes me, the amount of discussion (the Pumpkin Festival) generates,” said Fougere at the Jan. 22 board meeting. Considering the fact that there is a $3.8 million fire house project and $14 million operating budget on the town warrant, he said, and the festival is “one of the premier events in the state.”

Anyone with ideas or suggestions can contact Town Administrator Mark Bender at 603-249-0602.

There is a “Save the Pumpkin Festival!” notice on the town website, with information on how community groups benefit from the festival.