Madison Thomson

Last year’s giant pumpkin weigh-off contest champion, Madison Thomson with his 2,089-pound pumpkin

Elk Grove’s autumn tradition will finally return next month when the Elk Grove Giant Pumpkin Festival takes place at Elk Grove Regional Park on Oct. 2-3.

The 27-year-old festival took a break last year when the COVID-19 situation prompted the Cosumnes Community Services District (CSD) to cancel the event. They instead held the traditional giant pumpkin and produce weigh-off contest as a private event in order to keep the crowd small. Last year’s giant pumpkin champion was Newcastle grower Madison Thomson who raised a 2,089-pound boulder of a pumpkin.

Jenna Brinkman, the CSD’s public affairs manager, said this year’s festival will be “scaled back slightly” and more spread out at the park.

“We just love being out there and seeing all of the smiles on everyone’s faces, and we hope to bring back the smiles this year,” she said. “Even though it will be scaled back, we’ll still have the community tradition going.”

Brinkman said that organizers will follow the current state health guidelines of encouraging festival attendees to wear masks or to get fully vaccinated.

“We want everyone back, but want to make sure it’s done safely,” she said.

This year’s festival theme has a homecoming tone, “We Missed You, Pumpkin.” The festival’s traditional competitions such as the giant pumpkin weigh-off, the scarecrow display, and the pumpkin dessert contest will return. Organizers hope there will be enough empty, giant pumpkin shells to be converted into boats for the festival’s regatta. In that surreal race, which is set for Oct. 3, “skippers” are challenged to row such boats across the park’s lake without sinking into the water. Other contests are the pumpkin recipe competition and the youth art contest.

Also on tap is live music by Mars Butterfly and students from the School of Rock’s Elk Grove location. The Pride of Laguna Creek Lions Club plans to cook a “growers’ breakfast” for the contestants in the giant pumpkin contest, Brinkman noted.

“Of course, we’ll have a ton of food trucks,” she mentioned.

The Elk Grove Food Bank Services plans to bring their traditional pumpkin patch sale to the festival. Proceeds will support their work in providing food to community members in need during the pandemic.

The festival will be held from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Oct. 2-3 at Elk Grove Regional Park, 9950 Elk Grove-Florin Road. Admission is free and parking is $10.

Contestants wanted for pumpkin fest’s competitions

The Elk Grove Giant Pumpkin Festival’s organizers seek contestants for the following competitions. Registration will be open until Sept. 24. For contest rules and registration, visit the festival’s website, www.YourCSD.com/392/Elk-Grove-Giant-Pumpkin-Festival.

-Lil’ Pumpkin Cupcake Contest: Bakers, ages 12 and under, can submit pumpkin cupcakes for judges at the Vine Stage at 10 a.m. on Oct. 3. The first place prize is $75. Pre-registration is required.

-Pumpkin Recipe Contest: Local cook are challenged to create dishes that either use fresh or canned pumpkin as a key ingredient. Submissions can be sweet or savory. Judging takes place at 10 a.m. at the Vine Stage on Oct. 2. The first place prize is $150 and the best-of-show prize is $200. All entries will be accepted but advanced registration is recommended.

-Pumpkin Regatta: The bravest of “skippers” or amateur pumpkin boat racers (they do exist) are invited to partake in the 14th annual Pumpkin Regatta at noon on Oct. 3. Contestants must row across Elk Grove Regional Park’s lake and back, without capsizing. The registration cost is $5 and skippers must be 18 or older.

-Scarecrow Contest: One of the festival’s oldest traditions is back and contestants are invited to design scarecrow displays that express gratitude to hometown heroes. The contest theme is “A Pumpkin Full of Thank You!” The scarecrows will be displayed all weekend long near the Fox Swim Center. Contest categories are Youth Open (ages 12 and under), Youth Group, Teen/Adult (groups or individuals ages 13 and up). The first place winner receives a $250 cash prize, and $100 prizes will each be awarded to the People’s Choice and Best Theme Scarecrow winners.

-Youth Art Contest: Young artists can submit work that express ways of saying “Thank You” in the festival’s Youth Art Contest. Art of all mediums will be accepted, and contests will be held for the age groups of 3-6, 7-12, and 13-17. Submissions will be displayed at the festival’s Art Walk.