Juneau fair preps to 'chunk' some pumpkins

The second annual Great Pumpkin Festival promises at least one smash hit this year - that is, with pumpkins launched via catapults.

New to Juneau’s state fair (The Great Pumpkin Festival) is a pumpkin chunking contest (called the Catapult showdown competition here). What exactly is pumpkin chunking? Well, it’s the “extreme sport” of building a catapult and launching a pumpkin to reach the furthest distance.

Brenda Krauss, organizer of the event, said last year people kept asking about pumpkin chunking.

“People at the fair kept asking about it,” Krauss said. “I never knew about pumpkin chunking. We will have a real section of pumpkin chunking. We will offer some cash prizes, we know it takes some money for the materials. Be safe. We’re listing the national rules. There will be a $150 grand prize. All the entrants have a chance to win door prizes. ... Our merchants here in Juneau have been way generous.”

The pumpkin chunking will take place at 5:30 p.m. on Sept. 27 at Sandy Beach on Douglas. Entrants check in at 4 p.m., with a stress test at 5 p.m. Entrants take their catapults to the Juneau Arts and Culture Center to be a part of an exhibit and judged for design. Tabletop catapults ($5 fee) can also be entered, or on Sept. 28 from noon to 5 p.m. Contestants can built catapults to launch 2 pound, 4 pound or 8 pound pumpkins (or winter squash).

Safety rules will be enforced, and include operator helmets, goggles and pre-competition stress testing. The backstop will be May Flower Island Causeway, and catapults must be able to skid onto the beach or assemble at the starting line. For a full list of rules to keep in mind when building, see www.punkinchunkin.com/machine-rules

“I’m helping a group from Montessori,” Krauss said. “I demonstrate what they can do. Other things to keep in mind are not just safety but being able to break it down and rebuild it as quickly as possible the day of at Sandy Beach.”

The cost $25 per entry, spectators watch for free.

The festival will take place from 5-9 p.m. on Sept. 28. at the JACC, and from 10a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sept. 29.

“We’re the 6th in the state as far as state fairs go,” Krauss said of the order of when state fairs started.

“We thought the community didn’t really come together as much as they used to,” said Theodore Krauss, Brenda’s son, of the reason why they formed the fair.

Krauss said it can be hard for many community groups and individuals to get to the other state fairs and compete.

“For me, I’m a gardener,” she said. “I didn’t get to garden for a few years, recovering from some pretty serious cancer. I wanted to do something special for kids.”

So, she decided to grow pumpkins, but she thought if they were going to go through all that work, why not make it a special community event?

Krauss said the idea was to make it a semi-traditional fair, but not just a transplant of what people think of as a fair in the Lower-48.

“Since it’s a brand new fair, it’s an opportunity for people to come together and create our own fair,” Krauss said.

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