The City of Kenai welcomed autumn Saturday with its fifth annual Fall Pumpkin Festival, which featured decorated pumpkins, themed scarecrows and costumed characters.
Rather than taking place at Millennium Square behind the Uptown Motel, this year’s festivities were split between the Old Town Marketplace and the front lawn of the Kenai Visitor and Cultural Center.
At the Marketplace, local food and craft vendors were set up in booths to sell their goods, while kids played classic fall games like cornhole and ring toss. On the Marketplace stage, local musicians including Ben Mattox (AKA BenJammin) performed original songs and seasonally appropriate covers like “Zombie” by the Cranberries.
At one of the booths, the Kenai River’s resident mermaid, AnneMeridia, took photos with kids and handed out stickers and other goodies while raising money for the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward.
“The wonderful ladies around here swing by the river and pick me up every time there’s an event and tell me that there are wonderful kids who would love to see me,” she said. “So I came out to make sure that I can make their day a little brighter.”
At another booth, Katrina Nelson with O’Brien Garden and Trees sold a variety packages of plums and apples, as well as different types of jams made from the fruit grown at the Nikiski orchard.
Meanwhile, Scarecrow Alley was set up down the road from the Marketplace, right in front of the visitor center. Several themed scarecrows were on display, made by local businesses and organizations like Charis Place Assisted Living and the Kenai Police and Fire departments. Carol Bannock with the City of Kenai’s Parks and Recreation Department said the businesses would be taking the scarecrows to display at their storefront.
The main event at Scarecrow Alley was the pumpkin display, which featured about 70 different pumpkins decorated by kids of the community. Kenai Mayor Brian Gabriel and his wife, Lisa Gabriel, were in charge of judging the best pumpkin from each of three different age categories: 0-3, 4-8 and 9-12.
Gabriel said the competition this year was tough, especially considering there were so many entries.
The winners of the pumpkin contest were announced by Bannock at about 1:30 p.m. on the Marketplace stage, with each winner receiving a swag bag from the Kenai Community Library. Two of the bags were missing when it came time to announce the winners, but the kids who won were told they could go to the library to collect their prize.
The winner of the 4-8 category, Teagan Jorgensen, painted her pumpkin like the Milky Way galaxy, complete with constellations. Her older sister Blakeley turned her pumpkin into a spider using papier-mache legs and googly eyes. Blakeley said they spent about two days decorating their pumpkins “because we had to wait for the spray paint to dry.”
Teagan said this was her first year decorating a pumpkin for the competition, but they enjoy carving pumpkins at home — Blakeley especially likes to eat the pumpkin seeds, and Teagan’s favorite part is scooping out the guts.
The winner of the 0-3 category was Paisley McElwain for her pumpkin decorated to look like Olaf, a character from the Disney movie “Frozen.”
Kayani Whicker was declared the winner of the 9-12 category for her pumpkin that featured the silhouettes of wolves howling at the moon.