Delaware's Punkin Chunkin contest may be coming to Maryland

Delaware's Punkin Chunkin contest may be coming to Maryland
The World Championship Punkin Chunkin Association is looking for a new place to hold its competition this year, and is talks with Dorchester and Worchester counties. (Doug Kapustin, Baltimore Sun files, 2002)

After a two-year absence, the World Championship Punkin Chunkin competition is making a comeback, and it may be coming to Maryland.

The Delaware-based world-renowned pumpkin challenge, in which competitors launch the orange squashes into the air with medieval-like homemade contraptions, is looking for a new location — and it has its eyes on Maryland's Eastern Shore.


The World Championship Punkin Chunkin Association, which hosted the competitions in Sussex County, Del., from 1986 to 2013, is in contact with the tourism departments of Dorchester and Worcester counties, according to association President Frank Payton.

The competition was canceled in 2014 after a Sussex County farmer, amid a lawsuit related to an injury from a previous Punkin Chunkin event, was advised not to hold the competition on his land. In 2015, the games were also canceled due to insurance-related issues and difficulty finding a location. This year, Payton, of Milton, Del., said he doesn't want to risk not having a designated location.

According to Payton, around 30,000 attendees and over a hundred captains, who create teams and generate funds to create the pumpkin-slinging contraptions, come to Punkin Chunkin each year.

Even though the event was canceled, Payton said last year's planned location, Dover International Speedway, "didn't have the distance to traditionally do" what the contest intends — flinging pumpkins far and wide.

Four thousand feet of land alone is needed for the 100 machines typically featured in the competition, each requiring a 40-foot space.

"We have been looking for anything from 400 acres or more. Four hundred acres is the minimum, and the goal is, we have to have 5,280 feet for shots — a Punkin Chunkin's dream," Payton said of the 1-mile distance.

The closest anyone has gotten to the mile marker was in 2013, when a team slung a pumpkin 4,694 feet.

While in search of a new location, the organization has been offered more than 600 acres of land by locations in the Midwest — enough to hold a competition with a thousand machines, Payton said, — but he prefers to keep it in the Delaware, Maryland and Virginia area.

"Maryland has a lot of great opportunities for us. They have large tracts of land that haven't been developed," he said.

But a return to Sussex County has not yet been ruled out, either. The president said that he is still talking to farmers in the community.

A meeting for Punkin Chunkin Association members will be held in March allowing the members to vote on the new location, Payton said. If finalized, the 2016 event will be held from Nov. 4 to Nov. 6.

"Our roots and heritage are here, and we want to reinvent our reputation by making changes with how we want to market our event," Payton said.

"It's about what is the best long-term option for our association. If it can't be in Sussex County, we can realign our values, and still keep it a Delmarva tradition."