Sussex County Councilman I.G. Burton said he would like to see Punkin Chunkin return to where it started over 30 years ago after organizers with the event announced they were actively searching for a spot on Delmarva.
“I think it should be here, it started here, and I would welcome them back,” Councilman Burton said when asked by WGMD’s Mike Bradley about news that broke over the weekend that officials with Punkin Chunkin were searching for a location in Sussex County.
With that being said, Councilman Burton said he didn’t know if the matter is one that county government could aide in after Frank Payton, president of the World Championship Punkin Chunkin Association, proposed working with the county to navigate liability concerns that have hindered the event from returning to southern Delaware.
“I don’t know that it’s up to us as far as council goes,” Councilman Burton said. “It’s a problem that really they have to solve, it’s not for government to solve this, and I think they can. It’s an event, it brings a lot of people, there has to be insurance and there has to be everything that everybody else has.”
After 30 years in Sussex County, the event was forced to leave Delmarva after a cannon malfunctioned in 2016 and seriously injured a producer from the Discovery Channel who was filming a documentary on the spectacle which took place at Wheatley Farms in Bridgeville at the time.
Punkin Chunkin organizers had trouble finding a new location after the incident which led to a lawsuit that was later dismissed in U.S. District Court in 2017. They were eventually able to land a location in Rantoul, Illinois where they held a two-day event last year.
Frank Payton, president of the World Championship Punkin Chunkin Association, appeared on Delmarva LIVE’s Out and About Wednesday with Jake Smith where he said he and others are actively pursuing efforts to bring the event back to Sussex County.
“While we were out there, one of the things that we noticed was our resources, our resources are right here in the Delmarva region,” Payton said. “And having it closer to the Delmarva region, it’s less than a 13 hour drive, but also we’re back closer to resources and also we’ll be able to attract more of the Delaware teams who couldn’t make the trip out there.”
Payton wants either the state or county government to work with the event to help develop a level of protection from liability so they can bring the event back to southern Delaware, but other locations closer to home are also being considered, including Virginia who has reportedly open to the idea of having Punkin Chunkin.
“We are also talking to Maryland and Virginia, and Virginia is very open to us bringing it to their state, and we have members of our organization that’s going to go look at some candidates as far as land is concerned in the upcoming weeks.”
No governmental officials, with the exception of Councilman Burton, have expressed interest in bringing the event back to the First State, according to Payton who emphasized the long history Punkin Chunkin has in Delaware and how the people want the event back where it began.
The goal moving forward is to find a site within a five-hour radius of Sussex County if they’re unable to make something work in Delaware.
“Delmarva is a big area, especially if you go across the border to Maryland where liability concerns are less of a concern for both the landowners and the non-profit organization and its volunteers,” Payton said. “We just need the right farmer, the right landowner reaching out to us to say ‘how can we make this work?’”