Some wonder if they will ever again see pumpkins shot out of air cannons flying in Sussex County skies.
Following this year's World Championship Punkin Chunkin on the Wheatley Farm near Bridgeville, some volunteers associated with the event hinted that increased costs and liability insurance issues could force the event to move out of state.
Not so, says Frank Shade, director of public relations and marketing and former chairman of the committee that runs the annual event.
“It's got to stay here,” Shade said. “This is where it belongs: Punkin Chunkin is a Sussex County event, and this is where it needs to stay.”
Shade admits there are issues that must be resolved, especially Delaware's failure there to cap liability claims for festivals on private property. “The single biggest thing hurting us is the lack of a liability cap for events,” he said, adding state law caps claims for equestrian events.
“We want what they have,” he added. “We don't care what the cap is; just tell us what it is. We want to protect the landowner.”
The World Championship Punkin Chunkin Association is being sued for $5.5 million by a volunteer injured during the 2011 event when an ATV overturned on him. “At that time we had an insurance policy for $3 million, and we were told that was more than sufficient,” Shade said.
Shade said he is willing to meet with legislators on his own time to discuss legislation to protect all festivals, not just Punkin Chunkin.
Shade said in addition to insurance problems, over the past few years, fees charged by the state and county have increased to $150,000 for the 2013 event; the insurance premium this year was $45,000.
Punkin Chunkin pays for state police, Sussex County paramedics and Delaware Department of Transportation support.
An area fire department's fee for service jumped from $2,500 in previous years to $15,000 this year, Shade said.
“The state even started charging us $400 per van load for prisoners to help; we stopped using them,” he said.
In an ideal world, Shade said, he would like to see more financial support from the state and county or at least a reduction in the fees they charge.
“Each dollar we pay out means a little less we donate to scholarships and the many charitable groups we support,” he said. “We've never not paid a bill, and we'll keep paying the bills as long as people keep coming.”
Discussion of a possible donation from Sussex County Council is on the council's Tuesday, Nov. 12 agenda. “They have not given us money since 2009,” Shade said.
From its humble beginnings in Lewes in 1986, Punkin Chunkin's popularity has skyrocketed. Nearly 70,000 people attended the 28th annual event this year. It has become the most watched special event on the Science/Discovery cable channel. This year's event airs Thanksgiving evening.
Shade said there is no doubt of the economic impact the event brings to Sussex County. “While the county doesn't reap money directly from the event, county businesses do benefit greatly,” Shade said.
New world records set in 2013
Bad to the Bone, a Milton team with roots back to early Punkin Chunkin days, set a record this year with a throw of 3,245 feet in the adult centrifugal division.
Adult air cannon: 1. American Chunker, Merrimack, N.H., 4,694 feet (world record). Local finishers: 4. Poverty Stricken, Milton; 6. Y Ask Y, Georgetown; 8. Chunking Under the Influence, Millsboro; 9. Young Glory III, Milton; 11. Sky Buster, Lewes.
Adult catapult: 1. Sir Chunks A Lot, Berlin, N.J., 2,636 feet. Local finishers: 4. Feats Don't Fail Me Now, Milton, 1,219 feet; 6. Bust-O-Matic, Georgetown, 885 feet; 10. Spikey, Lewes, 155 feet.
Adult centrifugal: 1. Bad to the Bone, Milton, 3,245 feet (world record).
Adult centrifugal human powered: 1. Smokin Lamas, Parkesburg, Pa., 1,776 feet.
Adult female air cannon: 1. Hormone Buster, Georgetown, 4,382 feet. Local finishers: 2. Bad Habit, Milton,. 3,786 feet; 4. Bad Hair Day, Milton, 3,018 feet.
Adult human powered: 1. Shooda Node Better, Elkton, Va., 2,048 feet.
Adult torsion: 1. Onager, Clayton, N.C., 3,105 feet.
Adult trebuchet: 1. Yankee Siege, Greenfield, N.H., 2,835 feet (world record). Local finisher: Shenanigans, Georgetown, 1,755 feet.
Youth air cannon: 1. Snot Rocket, Preston, Md., 4,206 feet; Local finisher: Punkin Reaper, Milton, 3,446 feet.
Youth human powered: 1. Stomach Virus, New Tripoli, Pa., 1,230 feet.
10 and under catapult: 1. Jersey Devil, Wall, N.J., 1,272 feet. Local finisher: Punkin Seeds, Georgetown, 838 feet.
10 and under trebuchet: 1. Pumpkin Pirates, Danville, Pa., 418 feet. Local finishers: 2. Punkin Seeds II, Georgetown, 338 feet; 3. Pop-Pop's Machine, Milton, 318 feet; 4. Fudd's Flinger, Milton, 227 feet.
11-17 catapult: 1. Rockville, Wall, N.J., 705 feet.
11-17 trebuchet: 1. Colossal Thunder, Kansas, Okla., 2,402 feet (world record).