Hamilton festival Operation Pumpkin open through weekend: How to go

The annual Operation Pumpkin festival is open today through Sunday in downtown Hamilton, and with it comes a few road closures.

Drivers will not be able to use portions of High Street, Court Street, Second Street and Third Street until cleanup ends at 5 a.m. Monday.

The High-Main Bridge will be useable with detours off of it. Also open to drivers will be nearby Columbia and Black Street bridges.

Those who attend the festival will be able to park in the McDulin parking Garage, the Government Services Center Garage and side streets around the festival.

What to expect at Operation Pumpkin

Thousands of residents and visitors are expected to turnout for the event — but those who go should bundle up as the region is seeing temperatures drop throughout the weekend.

“The giant pumpkins are by far the coolest part of the festival, and the live sculpting. It’s always a central part of the festival,” said Jodi Fritsch, marketing director for Operation Pumpkin.

The festivities focus on all-things pumpkin, including sculpted pumpkins, a giant pumpkin weigh-off, decorated pumpkins, a Lil’ Miss Punkin contest, a pet parade, activities for kids and live entertainment all weekend.

As a centerpiece of the art and pumpkin festival, there will be giant pumpkin weigh-offs, which will begin at 4 p.m. Friday. Mike Blevins, an award-winning, local pumpkin grower will lead the weigh-off this year, and the event remains a sanctioned event through The Great Pumpkin Commonwealth. Operation Pumpkin awards more than $25,000 in prizes.

Awards will be given to the top 20 pumpkins and squashes.

Competitors will have pumpkins on display that weigh up to 2,000 pounds or more. Last year, the winner was 2,072.5 pounds. The giant pumpkin weigh-off had more than 40 entries in 2021. To date, growers have signed up from all over Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, West Virginia, New York and Pennsylvania.

There will about 42 100- to 200-lb. sculpted pumpkins on display, a Great Wall of Pumpkins, lighted pumpkins in the windows of downtown businesses, and a decorated pumpkin display that features more than 1,700 decorated pumpkins crafted by fourth-grade students from Hamilton-area public and private schools. Live sculptors will also be on hand at the festival, so that spectators can witness some of the sculpting.

The entertainment line-up will include headliners The Sly Band at 7:30 p.m., Friday, Don’t Tell Steve at 7 p.m. Saturday and Blue Water Kings Band at 3 p.m. Sunday. The Main Stage is located at the intersection of High Street and Riverfront Plaza.

A family activity

Operation Pumpkin’s annual Lil’ Miss Punkin crowning takes place at 1 p.m. on Sunday. A Pet Parade will take place at noon the same day. Pets (and their owners) will compete in a costume contest with prizes.

“Every year with the Pet Parade, it seems like owners get more creative with their costumes. In 2019, we had a man dress up as Shrek and he brought his donkey from a local farm,” Fritsch said.

Kids can participate in a variety of free activities, including a hay maze. The Fitton Center will have a selfie station. For a fee, kids may also enjoy amusement rides and a bungee trampoline.

For those 21 and older, beer and wine will be available. There will be more than 100 food and artisan vendors selling jewelry, distinctive artwork, vintage clothing, antique and re-purposed furniture and more. There will also be produce, pumpkins and mums available for purchase.

The festival was started in 2012 by husband and wife, Jason and Tammy Snyder. About 15 volunteers serve on the festival’s planning committee, and more than 150 volunteers help out over the course of the weekend.

The event also gives back to the community: Monies that are raised during the festival are invested back into organizations in the community, such as the Hamilton Parks Conservancy.

This is the 11th year for the event. More than 27 states have been represented at the festival in years past. Historically, more than 60,000 people have come through downtown Hamilton the weekend of the festival.

How to go

What: Operation Pumpkin festival

When: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday

Where: Downtown Hamilton

Admission: Free, all ages

More info: operation-pumpkin.org and facebook.com/operationpumpkin

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