Hoey: Fall brings exciting seasonal festivals, attractions to DeKalb County

Autumn is certainly in the air. While bidding summer adieu is difficult for some, the fall colors, crisp, cool evenings and local seasonal festivals and attractions have many DeKalb County residents and visitors looking forward to one of their most exciting times of the year.

When it comes to festivals, few in the area or in the state are as renowned as Sycamore’s Pumpkin Festival. After a 2020 hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the historic event is back and as big and vibrant as ever. The 60th annual Pumpkin Fest will run Oct. 27-31 and, of course, feature thousands of pumpkins, all painted or carved for judging. These ornate and unique pumpkins decorate the expanse of the DeKalb County Courthouse lawn with food vendors throughout downtown Sycamore dishing up pumpkin pie, caramel apples and other fall favorites.

“Old Fashioned Pumpkin Festival” is the theme for this year’s event. Festival attendees will encounter two arts and crafts shows, carnival rides, a historic house walk, 10K Pumpkin Run road race and the giant 2.5-hour parade, starting at 1 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 31. Information about this year’s Pumpkin Festival is available online at sycamorepumpkinfestival.com.

Speaking of pumpkins, Halloween is right around the corner, and there’s still time to visit the frightfully fun Haunted Jonamac corn maze. Fall is the busiest time of the year for Malta’s Jonamac Orchard, and its corn maze is unique in the region. The popularity of Haunted Jonamac is unrivaled, and as a result and due to the ongoing pandemic, the orchard is limiting the number of guests visiting the corn maze. Jonamac staff recommends that visitors purchase corn maze tickets in advance to guarantee entry. Haunted Jonamac is open Friday and Saturday nights from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. through Oct. 30. You can purchase corn maze tickets at jonamacorchard.com/haunted-jonamac.

As November approaches, high school football teams and their fans from across the state have sights set on Northern Illinois University’s Huskie Stadium, which again will host the Illinois High School Association state football championships, Nov. 26-27. This is the fifth time DeKalb County and NIU will host the state football championships, which traditionally attracts more than 20,000 fans and contributes $800,000 to $1 million to the local economy. The IHSA state football championships have drawn rave reviews from IHSA leadership, school administrators, coaches, participants and patrons who embrace the fan-friendly and welcoming environment in and around Huskie Stadium and throughout the local community during state championship weekend.

Among the reasons for the success of the bi-annual event is the great support the IHSA Destination DeKalb Host Committee receives from local and regional partners in the form of tournament volunteers and sponsors. Football state championship volunteers assist as ushers, parking attendants and ticket scanners and serve as community ambassadors in the “Spirit Zone” event hospitality area adjacent to Huskie Stadium. In collaboration with the IHSA, the IHSA Destination DeKalb Host Committee is providing an opportunity for monetary compensation to partner school and community organizations and groups that can secure at least 10 or more volunteers for one or both days of championship weekend.

Individuals and groups that are interested in contributing to a great event that highlights NIU and the local community to students, families and visitors from across the state can register to volunteer via the IHSA Destination DeKalb website at ihsadestinationdekalb.com/volunteer.

• Brad Hoey is special projects manager for the DeKalb County Convention and Visitors Bureau.