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Pumpkin Festival Daws Thousands to Arboretum

by on October 27, 2012 7:00 AM

If the weekend crowds are any indication, Happy Valley has a new Halloween tradition.

The Second annual Pumpkin Festival was held at The Arboretum at Penn State on Oct. 19, 20 and 21. Thousands visited the Arboretum to view the Jack-o-lanterns, which were on categorized by age group.

The Pumpkin Festival is the brainchild of Andrew Gapinski, the Director of Horticulture for the Arboretum at Penn State.

“I was raised in Wisconsin, and growing up we always had a pumpkin festival in my hometown. So when I moved to Penn State, I thought I'd bring the pumpkin festival here,” Gapinski said. “It was always always a great community event and something we looked forward to every year. And that's why we're having it here.”

The event was held free of charge. There was no charge for parking or to enter the grounds. There was popcorn, apples, apple cider and hot chocolate, all provided free of charge.

According to Gapinski, the event was held to draw Centre County residents to The Arboretum.

“This is the Arboretum's first community event, open to the public. Everything is free. We gave out over 800 pumpkins last weekend and people brought them back this week carved,” Gapinski said.

The pumpkins were judged on Saturday evening. Ribbons were distributed on Sunday afternoon.

“We had a best of show ribbon, a best Penn State-themed pumpkin and best traditional Jack-o-lantern face pumpkin. It's just a great way to get people together to celebrate the fall season,” Gapinski said.

Gapinski said the first-ever pumpkin festival he attended, back in Wisconsin, was his father's idea.

“It was something my dad started and it was great,” he said.

The festival continues to grow. According to Gapinski, he heard nothing but positive feedback the entire weekend.

“People love it,” he said. “As soon as the sun goes down, there are thousands of people out on the lawn.”

The festival drew a nice crowd on Saturday night, despite competing with the Penn State football game at Iowa.

The event was made possible by a gift from the Vargo Family of Maryland.

“They're enthusiastic alums who just wanted to help us bring people to the Arboretum,” said Pat Williams, Director of Development for The Arboretum. “They made the gift that provided funding for all of the pumpkins, all of the refreshments. It just about covered the entire event.”

According to Williams, the event is growing in popularity.

“Just looking at the attendance on (Friday) night, that exceeded our expectations,” Williams said, “and it was better than the attendance over both days last year. We were pleasantly surprised with the number of people that showed up. We're ecstatic.”

Organizers said that people from outside Centre County came in to see the pumpkins.

“It's bringing in people who maybe wouldn't normally come in to see the gardens,” Williams said. “It's a whole different demographic. Families with kids, that's nice to see.”

The event puts the spotlight on The Arboretum, at least for a few days.

“It is special. We've been here a few years, but I'm surprised how many people haven't stopped in to take a look around,” Williams said. “They'll pass it on Park Avenue, see the fountain and look over. But until they really come here and look around, they're always surprised at how big and just how nice it is.”

Williams is hopeful that people will come back to The Arboretum — even when there's no pumpkin festival.

“We certainly want the community to use it,” Williams said. “It's a nice, quiet place … stress free. I think it's a low stress environment out here.”

Chris Morelli is the managing editor of The Centre County Gazette.
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