The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

September 30, 2013

Festival about community as well as fundraising

By Cody Neff
Register-Herald Reporter

BECKLEY — Pumpkins aren’t just for pies and carving any more. They’re also the focus of a growing annual festival in Beckley.

Burlington United Methodist Family Services will have its eighth annual Pumpkin Festival fundraiser from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday.

The chief operating officer at Burlington’s Beckley campus says the festival does make money to support the local kids, but it also plays a larger role in the community.

“Seven years ago we decided as a team that we needed something to bring the community in and something to give to the community and also something to do for the kids,” Sheila Walker said.

“We felt like if we started some kind of festival and made the prices cheap enough that people could afford it, then people would come and have a good time. We were right. We were told by some parents that their kids wake up on Saturday morning and say, ‘Mommy, is it time for the Pumpkin Festival yet?’”

Walker says the group tries to pack as much as they possibly can into two days and people will have trouble running out of things to do.

“The main attraction is the bouncy toys, the horse hayride and a tractor hayride,” she said. “We also have a Space Ball for the older kids. We also have an arts and crafts show. We have some really awesome craft people coming this year. We have a gentleman coming that makes wooden ink pens. We have one man who makes wooden bowls and spoons. We’re going to have a blacksmith this year. We also have a man coming who makes decorative brooms. He also makes awesome metal utensils and bowls.”

Burlington office manager Sherry Young says the “Space Ball” is also called a “Gyro-Ball.”

“They actually used it in NASA,” Young said. “It’s a huge, clear, Plexiglas ball. They put you in it and strap you in and they run a crank that turns you every direction inside of that.”

Walker and Young say the food at the festival is some of the best they’ve ever had.

“We have hot dogs, barbecues, corn dogs, pinto beans, cornbread, cole slaw, cotton candy, candy apples and a whole lot more, including funnel cakes,” Walker said. “There are even the good candy apples, the ones with the caramel and the chocolate. We also are going to have fried apple pies. We have a lot of baked goods like cakes, cookies and candy. We’re going to have kettle corn. That’s a big attraction.

“One of the things that really adds to the atmosphere of the festival is the apple cider. We fix it in a big kettle that they make apple butter in. We have a real fire underneath it out on the grounds. You can smell the apple cider, the wood burning, the popcorn popping, and all of that just sets atmosphere for a fall festival.”

A variety of bands that play all sorts of styles of music play on the stage at the festival.

“We’re very excited that we have The Songcatchers coming,” Walker said. “One of the best groups in the state of West Virginia in my opinion.”

They play at 4 p.m. Other musical entertainment includes Shea, a Christian rock band, at 3 p.m. Sunday. The Raleigh Ramblers, who play old-time and Celtic music, perform at 11 a.m. Saturday. Hunter Walker, one of the best dulcimer players in West Virginia and surrounding states, also will perform.

Other events in the festival include a pie contest at 4 p.m. Saturday.

An auction at 2 p.m. Saturday will feature items such as West Virginia-raised koi fish and a basketball signed by the West Virginia University basketball team.

Other items include a large remote control airplane, rafting trips, Winterplace lift-and-ski tickets among many, many other things.

A flea market will run during the entire length of the festival.

For folks who would rather compete than shop, there will be several games and contests.

“We have a cornhole contest and we would love for people to come and sign up for that,” Walker said. “The cornhole contest starts at 11 a.m. on Saturday morning. It will go until the competition runs itself out. We give trophies and ribbons for all our contests.”

A Halloween costume contest for dogs is set for 3 p.m. Saturday, and at the same time Sunday is a pumpkin decorating contest. Walker says everyone should have pumpkins to the festival before 3 p.m.

One of the larger attractions of the festival is the quilt show from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday. Walker said those who want to enter their quilts should do so by 5 p.m. Thursday.

The little ones can enjoy face-painting, a miniature train ride and an entire room set up for kids’ games.

“Tickets are $10 for 20 punches,” Walker said. “Those tickets are for the rides and things like that. There’s no admission fee for the main festival, though. People just buy a punch card and it might be two or three punches for each little game that they might participate in.”

In order to get to the festival, people should go to the Appalachian Power building near Burlington and catch a shuttle.

“We have seven or eight shuttles and there’s a covered shelter that will be set up in case there’s a wait time,” Walker said. “Usually there’s no waiting. Shuttles will drop people off and pick them up, but if people end up buying a big item, we will let them bring their car in and give them a place to park while they load the item or their decorated pumpkin.”

For more information about the festival or to sign up for the cornhole contest, call Young or Walker at 304-252-8508.

— E-mail: cneff@register-herald.com