Best Face Forward

Jack-o-lanterns carved from pumpkins grown at the treatment plant and fertilized with biosolids help make a point to kids in a South Dakota town.
Best Face Forward
Mature pumpkins ready for harvest at the Keystone treatment facility

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Can jack-o’-lanterns become the face of clean water? It’s a possibility in the town of Keystone, S.D. Pumpkins are becoming an important part of operations at the town’s extended aeration advanced activated sludge treatment facility.

“We thought having a pumpkin carving and decorating contest with pumpkins grown at the plant would help showcase our facility and add some fun to our annual fall carnival held around Halloween,” says Jerry Przybylski, public works director, whose duties include operating and maintaining the water and wastewater treatment plants. The aim is to engage kids and visitors in an activity that highlights the benefits of the treatment process.

Expanding garden

Operators planted pumpkins in a 0.1-acre plot at the site of the new treatment plant (1.0 mgd design, 0.2 mgd average). Przybylski, with mechanics Walt Digmann and Jim DeHaai, plan to expand that to 2.5 acres as the carving contest grows more popular. The plot is fenced to keep deer out, and its soil is replenished with biosolids from a nearby lagoon that was decommissioned after construction of the activated sludge plant in 1999.

Plant staff picked the pumpkins and delivered them to the town’s Halloween Carnival at the community center, where the carving, decorating and judging took place. “We had about 30 carvers and decorators this first year,” Przybylski says. “The younger kids decorated pumpkins and the older kids did the carving.”

Lance Enricht, Keystone fire chief, won the adult division with his carving of Smokey the Bear. Sixth-grader Jarod Cline won the teen division, and 5-year-old Kirra Jenson won the youth division with her carving of a witch on a broom. Each winner received a cash prize funded by the contestants’ $5 entry fees. Judging was by popular vote of carnival attendees, who dropped pennies into a cup in front of each contestant’s pumpkin. “All the kids received some sort of prize,” says Przybylski.

Plenty of promotion

To promote the contest, operators distributed posters to merchants in the town, which sits at the base of the Mt. Rushmore National Monument. An electronic billboard and a sign board at the town’s main intersection announced the details. Newspaper stories also publicized the event. More than 150 residents attended the carnival. “It was a crazy success,” Przybylski says.

The idea for the contest sprang from Przybylski’s observation of white tail and mule deer eating old pumpkins he had thrown into a field near his home. “I am originally from Wisconsin, and we grew pumpkins,” he says. “Back there, the deer never messed with our pumpkins, but here they eat them.”

When he first suggested growing pumpkins to Digman and DeHaai, they laughed it off in a good-natured way. But eventually they liked the idea and made some suggestions. The idea of a contest for the community grew from there.

Big influx

The town of Keystone’s population of 327 residents swells to as many as 8,000 between Memorial Day and Labor Day, as nearly 3 million visitors flock to Mt. Rushmore each year. “That wide fluctuation in flow of influent puts a stress on the plant operation,” Przybylski says. But it’s during the low-flow times when the maintenance crew attends to the pumpkin patch with seeding, weeding and harvesting.

“It will all be worth the effort,” Przybylski says. “We’re already making plans for next year. We expect to have a pumpkin festival each fall that will benefit the kids and help to promote the plant for a long time to come.” 


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