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Pumpkins take center stage at festival

Pumpkins take center stage at festival

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With a pumpkin weigh-off, a pumpkin catapult, pumpkin rides and a pumpkin patch, it's no secret who's the star at the fourth annual Great Downtown Pumpkin Festival from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 29.

Festival activities will be at Main Street Square, on Sixth Street between Omaha and Main streets, and in Memorial Park.

“The festival was created with the purpose of celebrating the arrival of fall and showcasing the colors of the season in Downtown Rapid City,” said Mary Ann Pembroke, festival co-chair and current president of the Rapid City Downtown Association. “The event aims to attract both locals and regional visitors to the heart of our city for a full day of fall-inspired activities.”

The event begins at 9 a.m. with a drum exhibition featuring the Stevens High School drum corps and Rapid City Fire Fighter Pipe & Drum Corps in Main Street Square. The groups will perform, then lead a procession down Sixth Street to Memorial Park to help kick off the Pumpkin Catapult Challenge at 10 a.m. Student teams from South Dakota School of Mines & Technology have built catapults to launch pumpkins high in the sky in a test of physics.

Much of the day’s entertainment, food, activities and events will focus on pumpkins, especially large ones, according to Beth Hottel, marketing and membership director of the Rapid City Downtown Association.

“The giant pumpkin weigh-off is an example of the tremendous ‘growth’ of this event,” she said. “No pun intended.”

The weigh-off, with pumpkins weighing hundreds of pounds, is a certified weigh-off site for the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth, a national organization. The group's 2011 national champion weighed 1,818 pounds. Winners will receive a share of cash prizes totaling $3,000. The weigh-off will be at 11 a.m. on Sixth Street, with the award ceremony at noon on the Main Street Square stage.

Attendees will be able to pick a pumpkin from the pumpkin patch, ride the pumpkin train, and purchase goods and produce from the farmers market and more than 60 food and craft booths on Sixth Street and Pedestrian Alley.

The Elks Theatre will have five showings of “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!” (noon, 1 p.m., 2 p.m., 3 p.m. and 4 p.m.) with proceeds going to the Ronald McDonald House. Several musical acts, including Elvis and local blues musician Lane Termes, will perform on the Main Street Square stage. Olympian Page McPherson will near the stage from 10:30 a.m. to noon to sign autographs. There also will be family entertainment, including "Minute to Win It" competitions.

Responsible Dog Ownership Day will be celebrated with demonstrations and dachshund races beginning at 1 p.m. in Memorial Park. A Rapid City Police canine unit demonstration will follow at 2 p.m.

Eight downtown chefs will create pumpkin-inspired dishes to compete in the Chef’s Challenge at 2 p.m. in Main Street Square, and nine downtown bars are participating in the Pub Crawl from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., where autumn-inspired beers will be offered at a discount for those purchasing drink badges.

According to Hottel, the event drew more than 10,000 people last year, making it a busy day for downtown merchants.

“Reports from previous years indicate that it is one of the busiest Saturdays of the year downtown,” she said.

The festival is also a way to show off recent improvements to the area.

“We want to introduce people to all the new businesses and improvements we’ve made downtown,” she said. “It’s about celebrating the harvest season and showcasing Rapid City’s beautiful downtown to both tourists and locals.”

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