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Car dealer, software engineer square off to succeed Kahn
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The Sept. 13 Democratic primary to succeed state Sen. Jay Kahn, of Keene, pits automobile dealership executive Donovan Fenton, who is concerned about the lack of affordable childcare, against software engineer Bobby Williams, who is determined to help the environment.

Kahn announced in May that he would not seek a fourth term in the reliably Democratic Senate District 10, creating an opportunity for Fenton, a three-term state representative from Keene, and Williams, a Keene city councilor.

The Republican primary for this seat has two candidates: Ian Freeman, of Keene, and Sly Karasinski, of Swanzey.

As vice president of the Swanzey-based Fenton Family Dealerships, Fenton hears from employees about how hard it is to find childcare, an issue he has faced personally. He and his wife, Jackie, have two young boys.

“My son is on a waitlist for child care and other young families are struggling with the same thing,” he said Tuesday. “We’re lacking centers, we’re lacking teachers and we’re losing a lot of good people in the field.”

For those who can find child care, it’s often at an unaffordable cost, he said.

“I have a big dog in this fight,” said Fenton, 33. “Our Legislature is great, we have all these legislators who have such wisdom and experience but sometimes we don’t think of how important child care is.”

He said he favored a bill that did not advance that would have provided tax credits to companies offering their employees child care stipends.

Such legislation could also help with labor shortages associated with people who would like to work but can’t because of a lack of affordable child care and would be preferable to Republican-backed efforts to reduce business profit taxes, he said.

“My own wife was a day care teacher and when she got pregnant with our first son, we did the math and her full-time wage was less than what it would cost to send our son to day care,” Fenton said.

Fenton and Williams agree there is a need for more affordable housing.

“People are having their children move in with them because there is really no other great option for a young family to find a place to live in Keene that doesn’t cost a whole lot of money,” said Williams, 45. “There’s such a very low vacancy rate right now and it’s really been felt by a lot of people.”

He said he would like to see legislation that would make it easier for municipalities to buy property and create affordable housing. For example, he said the 22-acre property of the former Kingsbury Corp., in southeast Keene would have been a prime opportunity for city-developed housing if there were legal provisions that would have allowed the state to take on potential environmental risks with the property.

Speaking in the middle of a statewide heat wave on Tuesday, Williams said that if elected to the state Senate, he would spend a good deal of effort on environmental issues.

“Global warming is real and we’re going to experience it more and more,” he said. “It’s easy to point to on a hot day like this, but there are fires in California and a giant heat wave in Europe now.

“We need to be serious about emissions reductions and one thing we need to do is find alternative sources of transportation so we’re not just relying on automobiles all the time.”

He would like to see an expansion of public transportation systems that would be more environmentally friendly than cars and would also provide alternative ways for workers living in outlying areas to get into cities where jobs are available.

“We hear a lot of transportation options for the eastern part of the state with the Amtrak corridor, but someone needs to stand up for southwestern New Hampshire and I would bring that voice to the Senate,” Williams said.

Both Williams and Fenton said they are hopeful that Democrats can gain control of the 400-member N.H. House of Representatives and the 24-member state Senate in the upcoming election.

The men agreed that Democratic majorities in the two legislative chambers would be a positive development on a range of issues.

“It seems like the issues that are important to the community are not being addressed by the current majority,” Fenton said.

He said there is a lack of support for public education among the present Republican majority in the state Legislature.

“This is part of a national effort to defund, dismantle and privatize public education,” Fenton said.

Fenton also objected to legislation backed by Republicans to bar the teaching of certain “divisive concepts” with potential penalties for teachers who fail to comply.

“Instead of investing in teachers, they want to make them criminals,” he said.

Williams said he hears from people on the campaign trail who are concerned about gun violence. Republicans have consistently opposed gun safety legislation, while favoring an expansion of gun rights in the state.

“We’ve had an issue in Keene where a gun range is teaching people to make AR-15s,” he said. “One of my concerns is that this gun range is actually treated as a non-profit that doesn’t have to pay taxes because they have an educational function.

“But if their educational function is teaching people to make guns, I don’t think that’s worthy of a tax break.”

Senate District 10 comprises Alstead, Chesterfield, Dublin, Hancock, Harrisville, Keene, Marlborough, Nelson, Peterborough, Roxbury, Sullivan, Surry, Swanzey, Walpole and Westmoreland.

Whoever wins the primary will face off against the winner of the Republican primary in the Nov. 8 general election for a two-year term in the N.H. Senate.

Hannah Schroeder / Sentinel Staff

Wren Marean, 12, and Liam Dunn, also 12, of Nelson run across the middle line toward their flags, guarded by the other team Thursday evening in Nelson, during a community game of Capture the Flag leading up to Nelson Old Home Day on Saturday.

Desperately seeking dentists:
State can’t deliver new dental benefits to adults on Medicaid without more dentists

The state’s victory this year in finally getting lawmaker approval to provide nearly 85,000 adults on Medicaid basic dental benefits will be short-lived if it can’t find more dentists like Chris and Derek Blackwelder.

The two are among the approximately 16 percent of New Hampshire dentists who take Medicaid, a percentage some oral health advocates say needs to at least double to truly expand access to dental care.

“It’s going to be a challenge,” said Michael Auerbach, executive director of the New Hampshire Dental Society. “We’ve passed the bill, which is fantastic. It’s taken us decades to get this through. Now the real work comes.”

For the Blackwelders, their commitment to public service, which they’ve prioritized since working with American Indians after dental school, outweighs the downsides of taking on Medicaid patients: the tedious paperwork, low reimbursement rates, and challenges caring for a population with significant health issues and difficulty showing for appointments.

But passion for public health alone won’t be enough to sufficiently boost that 16 percent participation rate. Facing an April deadline to begin benefits, the state and oral health advocates have another strategy. They’re expanding recruitment efforts and offering providers an incentive to take on adult Medicaid patients: Someone else will deal with the paperwork, scheduling and rescheduling appointments, and transporting patients when they can’t get to an appointment. They’ll also be responsible for arranging language services and connecting patients with other services when needed.

Chris Blackwelder, who like most dentists currently sees pediatric Medicaid patients, is optimistic. But she says it will also take reasonable reimbursement rates that don’t bankrupt a practice to get those 16 percent and others to add adults on Medicaid to their caseload.

“I don’t think the limiting factor to dentist participation is philosophical,” she said. “I think if those things are in place our colleagues are willing, just currently not able.”

The state has long provided basic dental benefits to children on Medicaid. But unlike most states, it had limited care for adults to emergencies, such as tooth extractions. As a result, most dentists who take Medicaid have restricted services to children.

Public health advocates pushed lawmakers for years to expand coverage to include preventative care, such as cleanings and x-rays, as well as restorative care like replacing a chipped or missing tooth. They’ve argued that basic care would reduce the need for costly emergency services, lower risks of diseases associated with poor oral health, and increase job prospects for recipients held back by dental problems.

Those arguments finally overcame disputes and concerns about costs and the scope of benefits this year when the House and Senate each passed bills expanding benefits. The state will cover costs for the first three years with $21 million in settlement money the state secured in January against a company hired to manage Medicaid pharmacy benefits.

Sununu signed both in July, flanked by an elbow-to-elbow crowd that included lawmakers from both parties and dozens of oral health advocates. Among them was Dr. Sarah Finne, a retired dentist and the state’s Medicaid dental director.

“I’ve been at this a long time,” she said in an interview Monday. “I’ve been out of dental school for 38 years. This is in my blood. I firmly believe that we need to include oral health with overall health.”

Also in the crowd was Tom Raffio, president and CEO of Northeast Delta Dental, who recalled in an interview a time when many thought seeing a dentist was good, but not necessary. It took years of education to persuade lawmakers otherwise.

“More and more, there was a recognition that … the mouth is part of the body, and that you can’t have good overall health without good oral health,” Raffio said.

With the legislative challenge behind them, Raffio and others are focused on the next hurdle: persuading more dentists to accept Medicaid. “It’s one thing to have the benefit, but not if it’s unavailable because (too few dentists) are in the network,” he said.

Increasing the number of dentists who accept Medicaid will require increasing the number of dentists practicing in New Hampshire.

Auerbach said there are about 1,200 licensed dentists in the state but there’s not a good count of how many are practicing. And the latter are declining. Last month, the Valley News reported the closing of at least four dental practices in the Upper Valley, some of which took Medicaid, due to retirements or staff shortages.

Gail Brown, director of the New Hampshire Oral Health Coalition, said they know of just 17 programs that serve individuals and families who have limited incomes, few resources, or rely on Medicaid for dental coverage. That’s down from 19 a few months ago

“Those 17 programs are already stretched to their maximum capacities, many have had to limit or restrict new patients and create waiting lists,” Brown said. “These public-focused programs are unable to handle the current demand.”

That demand is soon to increase. Brown said other states have seen 21 percent to 24 percent of their new Medicaid patients seek care in the first year.

Concord’s community college, offers a dental hygiene program that’s been a valuable workforce pipeline for dental offices and health centers. But the state is without its own dental school. The Bi-State Primary Care Association, which is leading dental workforce development for the state, is addressing that gap with help from the College of Dental Medicine at the University of New England in Maine and the Harvard School of Dental Medicine.

The first provides about a dozen New Hampshire public health centers and private practices students for 10- to 12-week rotations. Harvard is currently sending one student to New Hampshire for a rural-based residency and expects to send four more students under a pending program.

If those numbers sound small, they aren’t, said Stephanie Pagliuca.

“We are not California,” she said. “We can have an impact with a steady, small number of folks coming through.”

Nicole Kimmes, interim dean at the UNE College of Dental Medicine, said the federal government’s latest report on workforce needs said New Hampshire could address its shortage with nine new dental providers, enough to expand care to 35,000 people. Some of those sites take Medicaid.

“Students who serve in our established network of community-based education sites have enabled clinics to increase the number of patients insured by Medicaid who can receive care; reduced patient wait times for appointments; and allowed for more donated dental care or reduced fees for high-cost procedures,” Kimmes said in an email. She said some graduates have returned to practice in the communities where they spent their rotation or in other dental health professional shortage areas.

She added, “Despite these successes, there is more work to do.”

Finne, who is leading the state Department of Health and Human Services’ work on getting the expanded dental benefit in place, agrees. Dentists have shared their hiring challenges with her.

“Their time is constrained,” Finne said. “Practices are not able to do what they could do three or four years ago. If you don’t have enough staff, it can definitely cut down on your availability to see patients.”

Brown said more public-private partnerships that bring dental care into the community, such as nursing homes and schools, and the use of lower cost and less invasive services may be part of the solution — if Medicaid and private insurers agree to cover them. She said they could include new fluoride treatments to stop tooth decay, restorations that don’t require drilling, teledentistry, and greater use of certified public health dental hygienists who can practice in a traditional practice and community.

“Both patients and providers need to shift from utilizing the emergency room to putting the right care in the right place at the right time,” Brown said.

Pagliuca and Raffio validated dentists’ hesitancy to take on adult Medicaid patients.

They may not have seen a dentist for years and arrive with significant dental needs. Their inconsistent work schedules and lack of paid time off can make it hard to keep an appointment. Unreliable transportation and language barriers are not small challenges.

“A lot of (dentists) really have great intentions and want to do right by the community,” Pagliuca said. “But it can be intimidating.”

The state expects to issue a call for bids this month seeking one or more dental managed care companies or Medicaid managed care companies to provide that administrative support and patient case management, which Raffio said is crucial. He expects Northeast Delta Dental will submit a bid, highlighting its existing relationship with nearly 851 New Hampshire dentists, 93 percent of all dentists in the state.

Raffio said Delta Dental would leverage those relationships, urging them to take on adults on Medicaid, and reach out to the 16 percent of dentists who’ve been taking Medicaid for their pediatric patients. He thinks increasing participation to between 40 and 47 percent is realistic.

“It should be oral health for all,” Raffio said. “One of our expressions is, ‘Everyone deserves a healthy smile, not just the people with commercial insurance.’ ”

'They are not slowing down': The rise of billion-dollar disasters

CRUSO, N.C. — A year after the remnants of Tropical Storm Fred dumped a foot of rain on parts of this mountain community, after the Pigeon River rose and raged and destroyed nearly everything in its path, the scars remain around every bend.

Sherrie Lynn McArthur, owner of Laurel Bank Campground, is still surrounded by towering piles of mangled metal campers, appliances and other debris — a daily reminder of the catastrophe where four people perished in a flash flood that leveled a spot vacationers had flocked to for a half century.

“Disasters happen,” she said on a recent evening as she surveyed the destruction. “But people don’t know that it lasts for more than a week or a month.”

In this swath of western North Carolina, dozens of bridges were damaged and some wiped out altogether. Scores of homes were destroyed, and hundreds more left in disrepair. The state allocated nearly $125 million for recovery, including funds to help displaced families and compensate for lost crops. The federal government has spent millions more to help homeowners and renters, as well as area business owners and local cleanup efforts.

Tropical Storm Fred and its aftermath became merely one of the 20 “billion-dollar” weather and climate disasters tracked by the U.S. government last year — a collection of calamities that cost the nation an estimated $145 billion and killed nearly 700 people.

“They are not slowing down,” said Adam Smith, the U.S. government’s lead scientist for analyzing billion-dollar disasters.

This mounting toll, which scientists and government officials say is driven in part because the world is warming, is forcing hard questions about who bears the burden of paying for them and how the nation can better prepare for what lies ahead. Ordinary Americans, often without adequate insurance, and local governments alike are ill-prepared for the sudden financial shocks such disasters can inflict. And elected leaders are scrambling to reinforce aging infrastructure built not only for a different century, but also for an earlier era of risks.

While weather disasters strike the United States every year, the numbers show that summer is proving prone to some of the most costly annual disasters, including powerful hurricanes, seemingly endless droughts, sprawling wildfires and torrential rainstorms that fuel the sort of flooding St. Louis and eastern Kentucky have recently endured.

Over the past two years, for instance, the summer brought two catastrophic events — Hurricane Ida and Hurricane Laura — that together caused more than $100 billion in damage and killed at least 138 people.

During summer in particular, many communities have had to grapple with compound, or cascading, disasters that hit in rapid succession. For instance, parts of California have seen wildfires followed by heavy rain and mudslides. A heat wave that descended after Hurricane Ida had knocked out power last summer left already vulnerable residents in Louisiana at more risk.

Even as such threats rise, Americans continue to flock to vulnerable places.

According to the U.S. Census, people have continued to move in droves to the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, where seas are rising and hurricanes are intensifying. They have headed to California and other parts of the West, within reach of devastating wildfires.

The unprecedented flooding that ravaged this verdant corner of the Blue Ridge Mountains last August barely registered on a national scale. But it underscored how even disasters that don’t wreak havoc across large geographic areas can inflict profound consequences long after they are gone. As such events happen more often, other vulnerable and unsuspecting communities are likely to face similar tragedies.

“Here’s the news flash: We’re not going to be the last small town that’s going to see far from a normal amount of flooding,” said Zeb Smathers, mayor of nearby Canton.

- — -

A dozen miles from where the worst of the flooding took place in western North Carolina last summer, Smith has worked more than a decade as a scientist for NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information.

In the upstairs office at his home west of Asheville, an unmistakable pattern has unfolded in his spreadsheets.

“The frequency and the cost of U.S. weather and climate disasters is increasing,” said Smith, who tracks disasters back to 1980, using an array of public and private data on everything from insurance payouts to infrastructure damage, to estimate their economic impact.

The data bear out that reality.

The United States has experienced an average of 7.7 billion-dollar disasters annually over the past four decades, Smith said. But in the past five years, that average has jumped to nearly 18 events each year.

2020 and 2021 saw the highest number of such disasters on record, with 22 and 20, respectively.

That list includes a wide range of catastrophes that span the country and the calendar, including a cold snap that crippled parts of Texas and hailstorms in Ohio. Spring has been an especially active time, the numbers show. But many of the most destructive and costly disasters of recent years also have come during summer — including massive Western wildfires, a crippling heat dome in the Pacific Northwest and devastating hurricanes such as Harvey, Maria and Ida.

“We’re starting to refer to the warm season as ‘danger season,’ because we’re seeing a lot of different kinds of climate hazards happening at the same time,” said Rachel Licker, principal climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Last year marked the seventh consecutive year in which the nation experienced 10 or more separate billion-dollar disasters. According to NOAA, the annual cost of such events has risen, with the 2010s proving “far costlier” than the several decades that preceded it.

There are numerous reasons that contribute to the troubling trend, according to researchers and public officials who have studied the changes, including ongoing development in disaster-prone areas and Americans’ push to live near the coasts.

But, Smith said, “Climate change is the 800-pound gorilla in the room.”

In places such as the Southeast, he said, a warming atmosphere means that the air holds more water vapor, fueling torrential rainstorms and more intense hurricanes that have led to catastrophic flooding. In the West, ongoing droughts have caused water shortages and created the conditions for megafires that burn across massive swaths of land.

“Climate change is enhancing some of the extremes that lead to billion-dollar disasters,” he said.

Smith wrote in a NOAA analysis earlier this year that climate change is “supercharging the increasing frequency and intensity of certain types of extreme weather that lead to billion-dollar disasters — most notably the rise in vulnerability to drought, lengthening wildfire seasons in the Western states, and the potential for extremely heavy rainfall becoming more common in the eastern states. Sea level rise is worsening hurricane storm surge flooding.”

In a recent assessment of the current state of climate science, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change drew a similar conclusion. The panel wrote that as the planet grows warmer, more and potentially harsher events await.

“We will experience extreme events that are unprecedented, either in magnitude, frequency, timing or location,” IPCC authors wrote.

“The frequency of these unprecedented extreme events will rise with increasing global warming.”

- — -

Travis Donaldson, emergency services director for Haywood County, was monitoring the heavy rainfall in the area that August afternoon last summer. He saw the water level rising along the Pigeon River near Cruso and Canton, not long before the calls for help began.

“It happened so quickly,” Donaldson said, adding, “It was like somebody flipped a light switch, and every phone line in the 911 center lit up.”

More than 70 people in the county were reported missing in the hours after the storm. Donaldson said emergency responders made more than two dozen documented rescues during the flooding, in addition to others undertaken by neighbors and bystanders.

Ultimately, 161 people from 85 families in Haywood County required long-term shelter, a spokeswoman said. Officials have removed 85,000 cubic yards of debris, and counting.

Then there is the emotional wreckage that remains.

Donella Pressley fled with her two young daughters, Cordelia and Elena, and an armful of family pictures just before a branch of the swelling river engulfed her house off Pisgah Drive. The family was able to return after more than seven months and numerous temporary moves, but even with her flooded floors and walls replaced, she lives with constant unease.

“I’ve just tried to brace my children that we do live by the river, and it’s possible this could happen to us again,” she said.

Bill Martin, a state rebuild coordinator for a Baptist organization that aids communities in the wake of disasters, has overseen a group that has renovated or rebuilt 73 homes, with many more to go.

“Mentally, it affected everybody up through here. Financially, it affected everybody, some more than others,” he said one afternoon as he put finishing touches of paint on a house off Cruso Road for a couple whose previous home was swept away by the river.

- — -

Adam Smith and others are quick to point out that while the warming climate has helped catalyze the rise in billion-dollar disasters, is it hardly the only factor.

“There’s no denying that the intensity of these disasters seems to be increasing, or the impacts seem to be increasing,” said William “Brock” Long, who headed the Federal Emergency Management Agency during the Trump administration. “But you can’t just say it’s climate change.”

He pointed to the fact that Americans have continued to flock to vulnerable areas such as coastlines, river floodplains and areas with greater wildfire risks.

The feverish growth of recent years, particularly in places where building codes are not always sufficient to account for the risk of extreme events, has put more lives and more assets in harm’s way.

“We’re all talking about climate change and how bad it’s going to be, but the incentives aren’t there for communities to do the right thing,” said Long, now the executive chairman of Hagerty Consulting, an emergency management consulting firm. “Nobody ever got elected” on a platform of more stringent building codes, he said.

In addition, Long said that a “financial lack of resilience” exists in many places around the country, where many homeowners are uninsured or underinsured. It leaves them particularly vulnerable when disaster strikes.

“We’ve got some real social vulnerability issues we need to tackle,” Long said. “You’ve got a lack of insurance within the citizenry, a lack of insurance within our communities for public infrastructure... . Until that changes, these disasters are going to get worse, and FEMA faces an impossible task.”

Threats still loom this summer. While scientists have predicted another active hurricane season, no major storms have yet hit U.S. coasts. Government officials also have forecast “above normal” potential for serious wildfires in the weeks and months ahead.

The accompanying risks, from overwhelmed electric grids to a lack of adequate cooling among certain populations, abound.

“We are not prepared right now. These disasters are increasing in frequency, and the nature of them is they are really dangerous and deadly events,” Licker said. “We’re not even prepared now, let alone for future conditions.”

And often, the impacts of extreme weather hit hardest among those who can least afford it.

“The most vulnerable populations are often those who pay the highest relative costs to recovering from disasters,” Smith said. “They just don’t have the financial safety net to recover and build back to where they were previous to the disaster.”

- — -

Some of those vulnerabilities are painfully clear in the mountains of North Carolina a year after the catastrophic flooding that struck here on a summer afternoon.

Roads, bridges and other infrastructure were overwhelmed by the deluge. Local officials are eager for dollars and plans to make municipal buildings, homes and businesses more resilient to the next flood; their wish list includes everything from early-warning systems to more robust storm water drainage.

Nick Scheuer, the town manager of Canton, estimated the municipality sustained $12 million to $15 million in damage. Police, fire and other town officials continue to work out of temporary facilities.

The town’s annual budget comes to about $11 million, he said, but “we spent close to $4 million just in remediation of flood damage to our facilities, temporary offices and replacing basic equipment necessary for operation.”

Homeowners without insurance — or without adequate insurance — are struggling to rebuild, in some cases raising their foundations eight feet or more above the ground. After the last round of severe flooding in the area in 2004, some residents in the region sold their homes through government programs, which aimed to create a buffer near the river.

Now, more flood-prone properties could be eligible for buyouts. But for the moment, residents here say they have relied on a patchwork of aid from federal flood insurance, FEMA assistance, state disaster funding, relief from nonprofit groups and the kindness of friends and neighbors.

“We’re still in the picking-up-our-teeth phase of this,” said Smathers, the Canton mayor. But, he added, “It could happen again this year — that’s the thing. It could happen next week.”

These days, Martin lives in an RV nearby, working alongside colleagues to repair and rebuild what he can. “I can hardly explain the devastation,” he said, comparing the damage to what he once witnessed after a powerful tornado struck Moore, Okla. “It sure took a toll.”

At the Laurel Bank Campground, McArthur still fights back tears most days as she roams the debris-cluttered landscape.

“You’ve never seen such angry water,” she recalled, as she stood alongside the river that was flowing peacefully again, for now. She spoke of the campers who lost their lives in the flash floods, and how their loss haunts her.

“I live their memory every day.”

A few miles away, Donella Pressley’s daughters were giggling and playing on the bunk bed in their revamped bedroom. In the kitchen, standing by the new countertops that had been installed days before, Pressley looked out her window toward the river, only half a football field away.

“It’s a very uneasy feeling when it rains,” she said, describing how only weeks earlier, she briefly evacuated again when a downpour caused the rising waters to pool in her yard.

For now, she said, “We will live. And carry on.”

Still, she keeps suitcases packed under her bed and in her daughters’ room, so that they can flee quickly if the next disaster comes.

Hannah Schroeder / Sentinel Staff

Wren Marean, 12, of Nelson runs toward his team’s flags while Julien Terk, 10, of Nelson chases after him to tag him, during a community game of Capture the Flag in Nelson Thursday evening.

Hannah Schroeder / Sentinel Staff

Jackson Farmer, 12, of Harrisville participates in a community game of Capture the Flag in Nelson on Thursday evening.

Hannah Schroeder / Sentinel Staff

Liam Dunn, 12, of Nelson tags out Maureen Lord, organizer of Nelson Old Home Day games, during a community match of Capture the Flag Thursday evening leading up to Nelson Old Home Day on Saturday.

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Keene Pumpkin Festival, slated for October, postponed a year
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The Keene Pumpkin Festival’s return will be delayed another year.

Two key members of Let It Shine, the organization behind the festival, had to step down suddenly for personal reasons, according to a news release Thursday from the organization’s board. The event had been slated for Saturday, Oct. 22.

“This festival means too much to us to give the city an event we’re not completely proud of, and the board did not feel with the few short months remaining before October that we could reasonably create the festival we want for Keene,” the release said.

The festival was last held in 2019. The 2020 festival was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and in September of that year, board members of Let It Shine announced they were ready to pass the torch to other community members.

Afterward, a new group of volunteers joined Let It Shine, with plans to restart and revitalize the festival in 2022. The City Council approved a request from organizers in April to use city property for the revamped festival this October.

The pumpkin festivals of recent years have been scaled down from the years where pumpkins and crowds dominated most of the downtown. The festival first began as a small community event in 1991.

In 2014, parties outside the festival escalated to rioting, resulting in vandalism, injuries and dozens of arrests.

The next year, the City Council voted not to grant Let It Shine a license to hold the event that October.

Smaller pumpkin festivals returned to Keene in 2017.

Board members said Thursday they plan to still mark the fall season on the date of what would have been this year’s festival.

“We will still be coordinating with downtown businesses to celebrate the season on October 22, but there will be no street closures, and the larger-scale festival and its tower will have to wait until next year to rise again,” the release said.

Anyone interested in joining the Let It Shine board or helping to plan the 2023 festival can email or message the organization’s Facebook page at