The Pumpkin Dump Derby benefits not only Keene, but charities as well

The City of Keene was at it again in hopes of obtaining its 10th world record for most pumpkins carved and lit at one time. But all of those pumpkins left a lot of debris. 

In order for a successful clean up, operation Pumpkin Dump Derby was in full effect. Sponsored by Shipyard Brewing and Clarke Distributors, the Pumpkin Dump Derby was a newly-introduced way of transforming the end of the festival into a thrilling event for all ages.

Ruth Sterling is the owner of the festival’s management team Sterling Design & Communications and has worked with festivals dating back to 20 years ago. After the 2010 Pumpkin Fest, the previous organizers of Keene Pumpkin Festival, Center Stage, stepped down from their duties “due to the expense of security in the college neighborhoods,” Sterling explained. Having once been a board member of the organization, Sterling said she took it into her own hands to “make this festival the coolest day ever.”

Sterling said the number one problem of Pumpkin Fest was the smashing of pumpkins. Sterling said it upset her and the people of Keene a lot. She said, “It felt like we were offering our town up, our homes and people were trashing us.” After putting up signs reading “Do Not Smash,” Sterling said it was time to “get to the root” of the problem. According to Sterling, the Pumpkin Fest organization soon realized the solution to the problem was taking away the so-called “ammunition” and removed the pumpkins before they could be smashed. “By taking the pumpkins out of the streets quickly,” Sterling said, “We would be shortening the time where destruction could happen, set a tone of respect for pumpkins and we’d get the place cleaned up.”

The idea to set up a race for pumpkin cleanup was introduced by Sterling herself. Teaming up with Coordinator of Community Services Jessica Gagne Cloutier, the two worked together to figure out a way to make the race fair. Sterling spoke very highly of Cloutier, as she said Cloutier had been to many meetings and had worked hard to make sure the festival went off without a hitch. Together, they branched off Cloutier’s idea of dividing Keene into sections for each team, creating zones for each. Sterling said each zone was made into a comparable size for the derby, so each team had a chance for the win.

Kyle Bailey / Photo Editor

Kyle Bailey / Photo Editor

Sterling said the derby idea was a test of innovation and industriousness. Fourteen teams consisting of eight-to-thirty people competed for the grand prize of $1,000 toward any cause of their choice. Each team that competed and finished cleaning its zone was rewarded $100, but the fastest team won the gold.

The rules are simple, according to the Pumpkin Fest website: register a team, grab your shovels and prepare to “run, pass, toss and roll pumpkins as fast as you can into compost containers.” The festival organization teamed up with the company Waste Management and decided the pumpkins would be disposed of in dumpsters and would later be composted.

Most of the teams consisted of KSC students such as sororities or honor societies, but this year Sterling said more community teams were expected to compete.

“They’re really good for each other because students tend to be quicker and the adults tend to be craftier,” Sterling said, “It’s a sport,” she joked.

Emily Fennes is a junior at Keene State College and has participated in the Pumpkin Dump Derby for three years. As a member of Delta Phi Epsilon on campus, her sorority teamed up with Alpha Sigma Phi to create a team for the derby. “It’s such a great chance to get different organizations to come together and partake in some friendly competition for their causes,” Fennes said. She stated that she loves activities at KSC because “Keene really is a family and it’s so important to give back to this community.”

This year, Cloutier informed us that UPS took home the gold, completing their zone in 7 minutes, 20 seconds. Coming in a close second was KSC’s own Tau Kappa Epsilon finishing in 8 minutes, 19 seconds. Just a mere two-seconds off, Phi Sigma Sigma’s team finished in third.

Captain of the UPS team Natalie Conley has been working for UPS for 15 years and has been in charge of community relations and fundraising for the past five years. “We do many fundraisers throughout the year, but this is one we all look forward to every year,” Conley proclaimed. She explained that her team was fundraising for Hundred Nights homeless shelter and resource center located here in Keene. “I had Mindy, the executive director of Hundred Nights standing beside me and when they said UPS was the winner, I looked over and tears were flowing from her eyes. That made it all worth it,” Conley exclaimed.

Although they did not break the record, the people of Keene came together to clean the debris left behind from an ongoing tradition.

Despite rumors of a cancelled Pumpkin Fest of 2015, people like Conley assure the City of Keene that it will have the support needed for another successful Pumpkin Dump Derby. Conley explained that, “Riots or not, UPS will continue to join the KSC volunteers in picking up after the Pumpkin Fest and restoring downtown Keene back to its beauty.”


Mackenzie Clarke can be reached at

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