The spirit of the Great Pumpkin may have been looking over Cortland on Saturday, as morning frost gave way to sun and rising temperatures, and an initially thinly attended Great Cortland Pumpkinfest saw increasing numbers of people swarm into Courthouse Park.
The Medders family came early despite the chill, and the kids made a beeline for the Maybury Brook Stable petting zoo.
Three-year-old Shiloh giggled as a rabbit nuzzled pellets of food from her hand, but the rabbit wasn’t so gentle with her father, Jeremy.
“Doesn’t it tickle?” he asked her, as he took some pellets from a Dixie cup and offered them to the rabbit.
“Ooh, it got me!” he said, after the rabbit bit the hand that fed it.
Nearby, his sons, Corinth, 3, and Josiah, 7, checked out the other animals.
“They pretty much like hanging out outside and anything that has animals,” he said.
Nearby, Maryfaith Miller and Summer Robinson of the Lime Hollow Nature Center — both of them wearing pipecleaner antennae on their heads — were educating festival-goers on the difference between bees and yellow jacket wasps and ways to deal with the latter.
Miller said their goal was to instill “an awareness we’re sharing this space with these animals.”
And literally sharing that space, because as they talked with passers-by, yellow jackets began descending on unsuspecting victims, aiming for sweet drinks and other sugary treats purchased at nearby vendors.
Miller and Robinson also set up a mock wasps’ nest they hung from a nearby tree limb, which Fiona Cummings, 5, of Groton, was gleefully romping around inside.
“It’s always the simple things that keep them happy, which is nice because this is free,” said her father, Michael Cummings.
Out beyond the range of the yellow jackets, Vern Filkins of Vern’s Pumpkin Patch in Scott hawked his products to people streaming into the park from Central Avenue.
By the courthouse, the Boy Scouts of Troop 85 in Homer used the day as a recruiting opportunity.
The hook was a bicycle-powered cord-braiding machine — a device that came from Scoutmaster Rick Burt’s workplace, Gladding Braided Products in South Otselic, but modified to operate from pedal power, of which his Scouts provided a continuous supply.
The product was decoratively braided and reinforced paracord, which the Homer Scouts gave away in substantial quantities. Over four days at the Cortland County Youth Fair, said Burt, the Scouts cranked out more than 200 feet of cord. About 5,000 kids have ridden the bike since he first rigged up the machine about six years ago, and it’s always a reliable attention-grabber for boys, who can then be engaged in conversations about the nature of Scouting.
Amidst the vendors’ booths and the wafting smell of kettle corn, Jessica Forbes and Emma Hans also tried to grab people’s attention — but for their own cause, the Community Restoration Foundation, a new non-profit the mother-daughter team launched a month ago.
“We’re trying to empower lower-income to middle-income families,” Forbes said.
The foundation will offer classes in lifestyle accounting, nutrition counseling, debt management, housing assistance, tenant rights, legal assistance and work force entry.
Pumpkinfest also featured live music, horse rides, hay rides, carnival rides and a pumpkin painting contest for kids, among other activities.
The Cortland Fire Department also had an open house, featuring an obstacle course for kids that simulated firefighting work as well as a public display of fire engines in the middle of Court Street, which was closed to traffic.