April 10. 2015 4:20AM

Claremont group interested in Pumpkin Fest

Union Leader Correspondent

CLAREMONT — The Claremont Citizens Group is holding a public meeting Saturday to discuss the possibility of bringing the Keene Pumpkin Festival to Claremont this year.

The meeting is planned for 10 a.m. at the Trinity Church in Claremont.

The group of residents formed last July to work on several city issues including city beautification from Christmas lights to trail cleanups, member Michael Charest said Thursday.

“We want to move the city forward,” he said.

Last week, Keene City Council voted down allowing the 25th annual Keene Pumpkin Festival in the city this fall. Since then, several other Granite State cities have expressed an interest in hosting the event that typically draws 60,000 to 80,000 people to Keene. The festival also holds the world record for the most carved and lit pumpkins.

Keene city councilors said there just wasn’t enough time to craft a safety and security plan for the city by this October, and that the drunken riots that caused chaos in and around the Keene State College campus while the festival took place downtown means the city needs to reevaluate how to keep residents safe during the festival while not straining regional resources. Many city councilors said the festival could be brought back in a year or so.

Charest said it’s a shame, but he is hoping to convince Let It Shine, the nonprofit that has been running the festival, to come to Claremont and work its magic there this fall.

“They were shot down in flames, and it’s really unfortunate. I think the city councilors are cutting off their nose to spite their face,” Charest said.

Charest said he has reached out to event manager Ruth Sterling and is hoping she will attend the meeting this Saturday in Claremont.

“She is invited, and I would love her input. I would love to collaborate with her,” Charest said. “Why reinvent the wheel. We’ll have them come up here and we’ll collaborate with them. ... I very much want to get Claremont back on the map.”

Charest is proposing Keene let Claremont host the festival this year and then going forward, alternate between Keene and Claremont each year.

“I think it can be a Sullivan County and Cheshire County event,” he said. “I think it would be a win-win.”

If Let It Shine says no to Claremont, the city could always hold its own scaled-down event, he said. Though the Keene Pumpkin Festival is huge and internationally known, many New Hampshire communities, like Milford, have smaller pumpkin festival events in the fall.

Tuesday, Sterling posted on Facebook that “The Let it Shine board of directors is aware of the requests from other cities and will be discussing the possibilities at a meeting next week. Should we let it shine somewhere else? What a choice facing us. Your thoughtful, kind advice is appreciated.”

Sterling said Let It Shine is faced with the question, “Would we rather have a pumpkin festival in another New England city rather than none at all? Would that help Keene’s elected and appointed officials appreciate what they’ve had for 24 years?”

She added the group has refined the great pumpkin tower and other aspects of this pumpkin festival program to the point where it could be held elsewhere.

“Ideally, if Keene keeps its door closed, we would prefer to work with a city within driving distance so families with young children can make the trip. That way, Keene kids could still experience the magic of the spectacular pumpkin festival,” Sterling said.

Monday, Paul Shea, director of Great American Downtown in Nashua, said the festival is a New Hampshire tradition that should be preserved.

The Nashua nonprofit organization has also reached out to Let It Shine to explore the possibility of hosting the event in Nashua.