Due to heavy financial burdens and liabilities involving a lawsuit, the annual fall event Punkin Chunkin will have to move away from the farm where it has been held since 2007 to a new location yet to be determined.
Punkin Chunkin is an event from Sussex County, Del. that began in 1986 where teams come together to match their pumpkin-launching machines against each other in 15 different categories, including adult air, adult human power, youth air cannon and theatrical.
According to NBC News, Punkin Chunkin is the oldest and largest competition of its type, in recent years drawing over 50,000 spectators and about 100 teams. Ticket sales and revenues from Punkin Chunkin each year are donated to charities, many of them local.
Farmer Dan Wheatley owns the land Punkin Chunkin has been held on for the past seven years at no charge to the World Champion Punkin Chunkin Association, but recently announced that he will no longer allow it to be held on his farm.
This announcement has come while the WCPCA is being sued for $5.5 million by a volunteer who was injured at the event in 2011 by an All-Terrain Vehicle turning over onto him.
Even though Sen. Brian Pettyjohn announced in January “that Wheatley is protected by the indemnity and hold-harmless clause in Delaware contract law,” reported by the Cape Gazette, Wheatley farms is still a defendant in the lawsuit.
“It’s not that I don’t want to. It’s that I can’t afford it,” Wheatley said. “I can’t chance losing everything I’ve got because someone wants to sue me.”
Although the association was not pleased to hear Wheatley’s decision, Association President John Huber said in a press release that the decision was not a surprise. The association has been looking at other options and has opened themselves up to alternative locations both inside and outside of Delaware.
Delaware Sen. Pettyjohn told the Cape Gazette that he will now “work with the Delaware Economic Development Office and the Delaware Department of Agriculture to find farmers in Sussex County, and then Delaware as a whole, who own large parcels of land who might be interested in hosting the event.”
“My goal is to keep it here in Sussex County” Pettyjohn said. “It started here. It’s grown here. It’s been a huge boom to the local economy. If we can’t keep it in Sussex County, I want to at least keep it here in Delaware. The last thing I want to see is it leave the state.”
Wheatley, though, said that he is not sure that there is another piece of land large enough to hold the event in Sussex County, and that he believes it will most likely move to Maryland. The event has taken up over 300 acres of Wheatley’s land each year.
Huber has begun to look at the Dover International Speedway as one of the options for the next location for Punkin Chunkin, but still no area has been set.
Students at Salisbury University have been attending Punkin Chunkin for years, carpooling in students’ cars and taking busses. Currently, the ride from SU to Wheatley farms is about 30 miles, but this change of location could mean a change in attendance for SU students. Some do not want the location to be much further than it is right now.
“Over an hour would probably be too much” Junior Taylor Wiedel said.
Many said they would only make the trip to Punkin Chunkin if the drive stayed at or less than two hours.
“I’d say two hours would be the max (for me to go)” Freshman Hugh McNeill said. “I had to get up at 6 a.m. just to get on the bus to get there, so having to get up at 4:30- 5 a.m. would be way too early.”
“I’d say an hour and a half max,” Junior Allison Galasso said.
“I’d still go if it was about an hour to two hours away, especially if it’s been as big as an event as it has been,” sophomore Ian Vetter said. “I live in Severna Park and I went twice with my family before I even came to college, it would a shame if it went any further away.”
Some students are not worried about the moving location, though.
“As long as it’s close I’d still go,” said Cole Ahlt, a SU sophomore. “I’d like to see it in Maryland but anywhere in Delaware is not too bad.”
Although a location for this year’s event is not currently set, the WCPCA’s website marks Oct. 24-26 as the dates for Punkin Chunkin 2014.