Pumpkin Fest is secure while ‘seagulls’ rage

Drawing thousands to Keene, N.H. each year is a challenge for those charged with keeping everyone safe. 

There is much to be done for the annual Pumpkin Fest and safety is always a first priority.

Pumpkin Fest has been a tradition for over twenty years. The festival was saved from extinction in 2010 by the non-profit organization, Let it Shine.

Those who organized the original festivals became overwhelmed by the cost of safety procedures for Pumpkin Fest.

These costs were particularly overwhelming in the college neighborhoods.

Ruth Sterling, the owner of Sterling Design & Communications and the passion behind the Pumpkin Fest management team, explained that these high costs aren’t for the actual footprint of the festival.

In fact, Sterling claimed, “The footprint of the festival is one of the safest places on earth.”

Still, there was an underlying problem when it came to safety.

“The real problem is the seagulls,” Sterling said. The seagulls are the friends of the friends who come from outside of the Keene community. She said the seagulls come to the festival for some of the wrong reasons; some don’t even visit the actual festival.

She said instead, some seagulls spend their time misbehaving while involved in underage drinking and partying.

Sterling revealed that she is delighted to see people using the festival as a time to party and celebrate with close friends and family, though it needs to be done in a safe way.

“City council members vote against me because of the seagulls,” Sterling said. Each year the city council listens to Sterling as she does her best to spread her positive reasons to keep Pumpkin Fest alive. If one more city council member plans to vote against her, Pumpkin Fest could be over, “because of the seagulls,” Sterling explained.

Tim Smith / Equinox Staff

Tim Smith / Equinox Staff

The crime reports are contributing to the new negative reputation Pumpkin Fest is receiving.

As written in the Oct. 24 2013, volume number 66 issue 7 edition of The Equinox at Keene State College, Keene Police Department Lieutenant Steven Tenney stated that, “Approximately 150 arrests were made during the 2013 Pumpkin Fest.”

That is over a ten-percent increase of crimes from 2012. The increasing crime during Pumpkin Fest is causing great concern around Keene. Sterling said, “Without safety, all the rest goes away.”

Sterling indicated she truly believed that the bad behavior during Pumpkin Fest isn’t a Keene State College-unique problem; the problem lies with the people outside of the Keene community.

Campus Safety’s Associate Director Stuart Mitchell agreed with Sterling, “From what I’ve been told, it’s not the students that are the primary movers and shakers as far as problems, it’s the folks that show up here.”

The members of Campus Safety do all that they can to prepare for the festival and ensure safety for all students and community members.

“It’s an all-hands event, everybody works,” Mitchell said. The Campus Safety officers were pulling extended shifts the day of the festival from ten to twelve hour days. Mitchell shared that this year there would be six additional officers from the University of New Hampshire at the festival, as well as a private security firm for parking and traffic. Just like earlier Pumpkin Fest’s safety comes first.

That safety starts with the students, Mitchell explained, “If we get compliance from a student for breaking up a party, that’s all we need to do.” Campus Safety’s job is to work within the rules of the campus and keep the students safe. “This is a family event that isn’t solely restricted to the college,” Mitchell said. His advice to the students was, “If somebody shows up that you know that you don’t have registered as a guest, tell them to leave.”

This is because students who were hosting friends were to be held responsible for their own person as well as their guest. If these safety rules were not followed, there could have been a chain reaction.

The hope for the 2014 Pumpkin Fest was to create a safe environment for a tradition of community celebration that brings the town and the college together.

“Only light can drive out darkness,” Sterling said, “If we let misbehaviors kill something this cool, we have let the darkness in.”

Editor’s note: The Equinox acknowledges that although the Pumpkin Fest event was peaceful, riotous acts transpired just outside the Pumpkin Fest footprint. For more information on the incidents that occurred on and around the streets of Keene please see the front page of The Equinox Oct. 23 issue.


Stephanie Frost can be contacted at sfrost@ksc.keene.edu

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