Pump­kin contest? It’s a zoo!

The Columbus Dispatch - - METRO& STATE - By Kath­leen Mar­tini THE COLUM­BUS DIS­PATCH

Lions and tigers and ... pump­kins?

Gi­ant gourds were the main at­trac­tion at the Colum­bus Zoo and Aquar­ium yes­ter­day at the third-an­nual Jack Hanna’s Pump­kin Carv­ing Cham­pi­onship. Master carvers from across the na­tion came to show their skills, cut­ting de­signs into pump­kins and squash weigh­ing up­ward of 300 pounds.

Ten carvers com­peted, with the top three win­ners shar­ing $2,700 — $1,000 for­first place.

This year’s champ, three-time win­ner Dean Mur­ray of Kiel, Wis., is a veteran of the Food Net­work’s Hal­loween Wars. Sec­ond-place finisher Jess Par­rish of Den­ver has carved on Mon­day Night Foot­ball dur­ing a Den­ver Bron­cos game.

Third-place finisher Vic­tor Da­gatan of At­lanta is a two-time world­cham­pion ice sculp­tor.

The contest was di­vided into sec­tions: a peo­ple’s-choice carv­ing judged by zoo guests, a four-hour contest in which 3-D images were carved into a 300-pound pump­kin, and a six-hour pe­riod to cre­ate a sculp­ture us­ing one 300pound pump­kin and five nor­mal-size pump­kins.

Most com­peti­tors said they wait to see the pump­kin be­fore de­cid­ing what to carve.

“It all de­pends on the pump­kin, for me,” said Gus Smith­hisler of Marengo. “I pre­fer to carve what’s in the pump­kin and bring it out.”

In ad­di­tion to carv­ing pump­kins and squash, Smith­hisler, an en­gi­neer for the Ohio Depart­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources, grows them.

He and a friend pro­vided the gourds for the com­pe­ti­tion.

“They’re lo­cal. They’re brought in on a huge truck and un­loaded with a fork­lift,” event co­or­di­na­tor Jonathan Ho­tal­ing said. “That’s one of the things that makes this orig­i­nal, one of a kind.”

The event has be­come so popular that there’s a wait­ing list of carvers look­ing to com­pete. The contest used to be held dur­ing the zoo’s Fall Fes­ti­val, but this year it was moved to its own week­end.

“Be­cause of the lim­i­ta­tions we have with ac­quir­ing 500-pound pump­kins, we have to keep it to 10 peo­ple for right now,” Ho­tal­ing said, “but hope­fully in the fu­ture, if it keeps catch­ing on, we’ll find ways to grow it and make it even big­ger.”

Smith­hisler said he most en­joyed the look of amaze­ment on the faces of kids watch­ing him chip away at a squash he carved yes­ter­day to look like Smokey Bear.

“They’re here teach­ing the kids how you can take some­thing that’s com­pletely nat­u­ral and not that pretty and make art with it,” said Amanda Webb, 36, of Up­per Ar­ling­ton, who watched the carv­ing with her daugh­ters Made­line, 10, and Lil­lian, 9.

DIS­PATCH PHO­TOS

BAR­BARA J. PERENIC Pe­rus­ing pump­kins sculpted by master carvers, contest judges and oth­ers at the Colum­bus Zoo and Aquar­ium are, from left, Jimmy Lan­dis, 6; his mom, Rachel Lan­dis; and brother Jonathan Lan­dis, 4.

Sur­rounded by chunks of pump­kin, Jess Par­rish of Den­ver works on a piece dur­ing the third-an­nual Jack Hanna’s Pump­kin Carv­ing Cham­pi­onship.

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