LACONIA, N.H. (AP) — The annual New Hampshire Pumpkin Festival has a new home in the city of Laconia after its longtime host city declined to issue a permit following violence that led to more than 100 arrests near last year's event.
At an official announcement in the city's historic train station Friday, Mayor Ed Engler said Laconia's experience hosting an annual motorcycle festival that attracts upward of 100,000 people has given officials a good handle on security and public safety for the pumpkin festival. The lack of a four-year college in the city, Engler added, removes a group that was largely blamed for last year's outbursts.
"We have the infrastructure in place from a regulatory standpoint and from a supervision standpoint," Engler said.
Last year's violence started at alcohol-fueled parties linked to Keene State College and most of the 100-plus people arrested in the aftermath were students. The rioting led to injuries and property damage, leading the Keene City Council earlier this month to reject a permit for this year's festival.
Laconia is a city of about 16,000 in the state's central Lakes Region.
"I don't think there are any huge concerns, no," Engler said at the announcement event where organizers handed out packets of pumpkin seeds to plant. "I think we have a different dynamic in our community."
Held in Keene since 1991, the pumpkin festival tries each year to set a record for the number of carved and lighted pumpkins.
Event organizer Ruth Sterling credited Charlie St. Clair, who organizes Bike Week in Laconia, for stepping in to save the festival. She said she was asked in the aftermath of last year's violence what came next.
"I said we would hope for a miracle and that's just what happened," she said of St. Clair's interest in the festival. "He said 'Not on my watch. Not on my watch will New Hampshire lose an event that attracts people the world over.'"
Sterling is also reaching out to other communities that are holding pumpkin festivals and asking them to preserve their pumpkins and deliver them to Laconia for the Oct. 24 event to try to break another world record.