Over the last two years, Highwood has tried to set a new Guinness world record for the most carved jack-o-lanterns (lit pumpkins). The 2010 effort came surprisingly close, with 26,287 pumpkins up and down the center of Highwood. However, the record of 30,128, held by Boston, remains untouched.
The 2011 edition of Pumpkin Fest has several changes over the prior years. First, there's a little competition -- the city of Keene, New Hampshire, is also after pumpkin bragging rights. Second, Highwood found the most enthusiastic, best source of pumpkin carving labor -- students. Schools that carve at least 500 pumpkins can enter a raffle to win $5000. 32 schools are expected to participate. If it works, that will solve for at least half the needed pumpkins!
There are a ton of other activities planned for next week's Pumpkin Fest. Gone are the pumpkin-themed eats from last year's event; in 2011, every activity is designed to get more people to Pumpkin Fest. Smart strategy! Various scheduled events include a parade, pony rides, human and pet costume contests, live music and the Highwood Gourmet Farmer's Market. There is also a 5K run, a giant pumpkin race and even a Thriller Dance -- will they be better than the Philippine prisoners?
The bottom lime, of course, is the pumpkins. Highwood needs volunteers now to prep and core pumpkins and ready them for carving. During the event itself, each pumpkin costs $3. Of course, you can bring your own as well, but be sure to check them in for the official count at one of several available tally stations.
After last year's event, I worried whether a per-pumpkin cost to carve was the inhibitor to setting the record. A flat donation, along with the myriad of sponsor money, might have kept the carvers going without worrying about the incremental expense. I'm also a little concerned about the Highwood festivities finishing on October 23, more than a week before the Halloween spirit spreads fully. Perhaps, hopefully, Highwood's approach of constant entertainment, good food and can-do attitude will persevere.
Regardless of whether the record is finally achieved this year, Highwood continues to impress me with their non-stop festivals and events. The sense of community is unparalleled, and quite a different feel from Ravinia, Port Clinton Art Festival or the other marquee events in Highland Park. We are fortunate to live in an area where our elected and city officials have a range of big ideas and offer so many choices for entertainment and community activity.
Let's hope this Pumpkin Festival is the one that puts our names in the record books.