CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When the West Virginia Pumpkin Festival began in 1986, it took place under tents on the Little League property in Milton. Then, around 1998, the festival bought the adjoining property, which now goes by the name West Virginia Pumpkin Park.
It's been growing ever since.
"Each year, we've grown," said festival president Bill Kelley. "We now own 86 acres. We've gone from tents to a whole lot of buildings."
One of those buildings is the Milton Performing Arts Center, which Kelley said has been in operation for slightly more than a year.
"As we grew and added buildings, electrical services and water -- the maintenance goes on year-round. To cover [those] expenses all year with a once-a-year festival was impossible, so we looked at ways to generate income and be a service to our community as well."
So far, the center seems to be greatly appreciated by the community. It has a steady stream of concerts booked for this year (see schedule below), which wouldn't be possible if community members and music lovers weren't embracing what was being done.
"And we've started to book for next year on it," Kelley added.
"We do our own booking," he said. "We're getting more and more demand for more shows. Right now, we're primarily into gospel because that seems to be what the area and the public are looking for.
"We do some bluegrass and bluegrass gospel, too. We're looking to possibly get into more country, but we find the cost there considerably more than what we can do in gospel. Until our name is out and we're well recognized, we're careful not to overspend until we know we have the following to support it."
Another popular event at Pumpkin Park is the Milton Motocross. Kelley said that has been at the park for the past 10 years in the summer, and it will be there again this summer.
"That draws a certain group of people," he said. "Those with bikes and their parents and grandparents. It's a separate group of people than what you normally have at the gospel things. It's one of the best family-oriented sports you can get into. Mom, Dad and the grandparents are always there with them. It's a great, well-behaved group.
Kelley said motocross normally begins in mid-April, and if you visit the park's website, wvpumpkinpark.com, around that time, the new season's information will be posted. Last year, the races began in April and went all the way through mid-November.
Previously, the park also hosted horse shows. Those have been put on hold the past few years, though, Kelley said.
"The horse ring we had became in poor condition," he explained. "For safety, we removed it. In the next year or two, we hope to get a new one and get back into horse shows."
The park has been used as a wedding location, as well, for everything from ceremonies to receptions to photos. Kelley said the covered bridge on the property is especially popular.
"It makes a beautiful backdrop," he said.
He noted that representatives from the park will be at the West Virginia Home Show at the Charleston Civic Center, April 4-6, and he invited everyone to stop by and meet them.
"And we're available to talk or meet with anybody anytime they want to call or make an appointment," he said.
When you call, odds are, someone will answer -- and that someone might likely be Kelley.
"I'm here at least six days a week working on various aspects of the performing arts center, getting the grounds ready, doing maintenance or planning for this year's festival," he said.
All the work is "turning me gray-headed," he said with a laugh. "But we enjoy it."