Pumpkin contest? It’s a zoo!
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.
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.