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Fall Festivals Full of Foliage in New England

When it comes to fall foliage, no region in the country has a more esteemed reputation than New England, and thousands of enthusiasts and tourists flock to the region in October during the small window of time when colors are most vibrant.

To take advantage of the influx of guests and to celebrate the season, many New England communities host fall festivals to give visitors more to enjoy than the changing of the leaves.

And while you’re sure to see the quintessential trappings of your average fall festival — pumpkins and apples, hayrides, flannel shirts and other autumnal offerings — some communities and organizations set themselves apart with their own interpretations of what a fall festival can be.

From pumpkin motorboats to oyster-shucking competitions to entire food courts dedicated to garlic, New England fall festivals take advantage of the seasonal fall color as well as the local color.


Wellfleet Oysterfest

Cape Cod, Massachusetts 

For the past 14 years, the Shellfish Promotion and Tasting nonprofit organization has hosted the Wellfleet Oysterfest for two days in October in the small community on Cape Cod Bay. And as all the shirts will attest, “It’s a Shucking Good Time.”

First located in the town center, the festival has quickly expanded to encompass the waterfront and other venues; more than 25,000 locals and visitors attend the salty event, according to Michelle Insley, the executive director for Shellfish Promotion and Tasting (SPAT).

The oyster celebration boasts dozens of arts-and-crafts booths; food vendors, including a dozen raw bars from local producers; kids’ events; and cooking demonstrations. Given SPAT’s dedication to fostering a greater understanding of the area’s shell-fishing history and aquaculture industry, the event also features numerous educational seminars, workshops and presentations by local experts.

The highlight of the event is the shucking competition, which is open to anybody who thinks they can shuck an oyster with the best of them. And in Massachusetts, that’s a point of pride for most people. The “Shuck Off” isn’t about speed alone; participants must shuck 24 oysters and are judged on time, quality and presentation, meaning no broken shells or mangled oysters. There are also time penalties for slashed fingers.

The best part about the competition, according to Insley, is between the heats, when all those shucked oysters need to be eaten by audience members.


Damariscotta Pumpkinfest and Regatta

Damariscotta, Maine

During the Damariscotta Pumpkinfest and Regatta, you’ll see pumpkins in some unlikely locations: parading down the street in exotic artistic design, flying through the air and even puttering through Great Salt Bay, passenger in tow, as hollowed-out motorboats. You’ll also see some enormous pumpkins. In 2014, the new state record for Maine was set during the annual Giant Pumpkin Weigh-Off, which opens the festivities. The record-breaker came in at 1,695 pounds.

The event began in 2007 when local pumpkin farmers wanted to show off their gargantuan produce. Today, nearly 15,000 people attend the festival, which has an interesting artistic and agricultural spirit as dozens of Maine artists turn the massive Atlantic Giant Pumpkins into works of art on display throughout the town. Music, kids’ activities and food vendors selling all sorts of pumpkin incarnations line the streets.

A highlight of the festivities is the Pumpkin Hurling Event, where pumpkins are catapulted or shot out of a cannon for a variety of competitions judged on distance and accuracy. But the most anticipated event is the Pumpkinboat Regatta, the extreme sport of gardening. There are two divisions: paddleboat and powerboat. For the powerboats, each fitted with a five- to 10-horsepower outboard motor, the criteria are simple: There are no rules and no fouls; the pumpkin just needs to float and go fast.

Depending on the tides, there might even be a game of Pumpkinboat Polo.