Turnout for Saturday morning’s Bunny Blast and Easter egg hunt at Watson Park was so strong that organizers added an extra hunt session for the kids.
“We don’t want anyone left out,” said Brian Hill, park manager.
Traffic was backed up significantly along McLean Boulevard when the two-hour event started at 10 a.m., so a fourth hunt was added.
“I had no idea this many people would be here,” said Kelly Penka, who joined her husband, David, in bringing their three girls – Aimee, 7; Bella, 7; and Shaelyn, 5.
They were among the 2,500 who came to the city-sponsored event, Hill said.
No one was sure what to expect. Technically, this was the sixth annual hunt.
Saturday’s turnout was half the peak number of 5,000 people who came when the event was held in consecutive years from 2007 to 2010, said Karen Holmes, the city’s recreation superintendent.
But the event was dropped for the next two years because of budget cuts. Holmes led a charge for it to return last year.
Remember last spring? Lots of cold and snow. There were both for last year’s event when only 250 people came, Holmes said.
Saturday was a perfect spring morning with temperatures in the high 60s. But for the first time, the city was charging a fee – $5 per carload – to come to the event.
“We’re charged with generating revenue,” Holmes said. “We were going to start it last year, but then with all the snow …”
No one seemed to object to the nominal fee, particularly considering that seven or eight children were packed into some cars.
“Five dollars is a very decent price for a carload and what you’re getting,” said Jennifer Powell, who brought her great-nephew, Xavior, 6, and granddaughter, Kyndra, 2.
Besides the 8,000 plastic eggs with candy inside, there were free rides on the park’s popular train. Children also had a chance to bounce on inflatables, play miniature golf, ride paddleboats and get temporary tattoos at no cost.
It costs about $2,000 to put on the event, including staffing, Holmes said. Four hundred cars paid the $5 fee, Hill said, so the revenue just covered expenses.
Holmes said it’s well worth the money.
“We’re a memory maker,” Holmes added. “We need to do more events for the public.”
The Penkas were making memories in their first time at the event. Like a number of children, the girls were decked out in their colorful Easter dresses.
Shaelyn, the 5-year-old, was up and ready to go hours before the hunt started, Kelly Penka said.
“They’ve all been so excited,” the mother added.
The hunt sessions were broken up in age groups. Hill, the park manager, stood before a crowd of children who were 5 to 7 and used his bullhorn to give pre-hunt instructions.
“Don’t run or push,” he told them. “No more than five eggs each. We want everyone to get eggs.”
There wasn’t much hunting to it. The multi-colored plastic eggs lay on top of the ground.
And then he began the countdown: “Ten, nine, eight … one.”
They were off. Yes, running.
“I run fast because I like to get a lot of eggs,” said Xavior Powell, the 6-year-old.
They picked up eggs as they went, although some eggs were crushed by little feet before they could be retrieved.
“Organized chaos,” David Penka said after watching his daughters collect five eggs each.
At least the children had fun and got an early hop on the Easter Bunny.