World Championship Punkin Chunkin is back (although organizers insist they never actually went anywhere), but before they can send fall fruit barreling through the Delaware skies, they need to secure the ground underneath.
And when you’re sending pumpkins—yes, they’re a fruit, we checked—flying for nearly a mile, you need a lot of room. The event would like 600 acres of land (which works out to about a square mile) but could make do with half that.
The space isn’t just for pumpkins, either. With vendors, a stage and perhaps 50,000 visitors, the world championship needs plenty of space for parking, too. If no space can be found in Delaware, organizers are discussing moving the event to Maryland’s Eastern Shore or Virginia.
The event’s past injuries have complicated its search for a home. In 2016, a TV producer was seriously injured when she was struck by a flying chunk of metal from an air cannon. As it did then, the legal disputes following injuries have sometimes ensnared landowners, too.
But Milton’s Frank Payton, president of the World Championship Punkin Chunkin Association, says there are still great reasons for a big First State landowner to step up and host.
When the Pumpkin Chunkin progenitors first gathered to christen the tradition in 1986, they made it a nonprofit. Since 2000, it has donated more than $1 million to charities, including St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and local baseball leagues.
Though Punkin Chunkin events have been held in other states, including Colorado and New Hampshire, the World Championship Punkin Chunkin’s identity is tied to Sussex County.
“People who believe that tradition is sacred, such as myself, would love to have it in Delaware,” Payton says. That said, Delaware’s nonprofit laws raise the cost of buying insurance here. Unlike neighboring Maryland, it doesn’t have limits on how much an individual volunteer can be sued for.
Yes, recent iterations of the world championship ended up with the landowner enmeshed in a lawsuit after an injury. But the association has learned its lessons, Payton says.
“Unfortunately, every time we go through something like this, we learn something that protects the land owner.”
Payton says their goal is to be invited back, so they’re keenly aware of the need to protect the livelihood of farmers who host the competition.
“We want to return the property to its original, if not better, state than we received it,” he said.
The event is also a rare opportunity for kids and teens to practice their math and engineering skills outside the classroom.
“Everyone’s talking about STEM, and that’s what our event is about, especially for children,” Payton says.