Oodles of little people — ranging in size from “only this high” to “my, how you’ve grown!” converged on Historic Huguenot Street in New Paltz last Saturday to participate in the annual Easter egg hunt. The longstanding tradition is one that gets participation from many places: in addition to the historic grounds, the event is organized through the town’s youth program, received enthusiastic support from town police officers and village firefighters, and included guest appearances by a bunny and a lion who did not disclose if they were on anyone’s payroll.
“We used to do the entire hunt all at once, and it was over in five minutes,” recalled Jim Tinger, who has been the town youth director for nearly 30 years. To provide equity, the hunt is now broken into four age categories of increasing difficulty, with 12-year-olds being the oldest who can participate. To encourage a longer event for the amount of work it takes to load, lay out and hide thousands of plastic eggs, additional activities have been added: face painting, a bouncy house, firefighters opening up their ladder truck for inspection, concessions and a 50/50 raffle.
All but the food is free, and the proceeds from the snacks and straight-up donations go toward the youth program van fund, which is growing, albeit slowly. “I think we have enough for three tires and an engine,” Tinger joked.
Each hunt is set up similarly: the area is cordoned off, and many brightly-colored eggs scattered within. Most contain a minor prize — stickers for the littluns, candy for the bigguns — but some instead have a slip of paper giving the finder claim to one of the age-appropriate gifts displayed on one table. Next to that was one covered with packed Easter baskets, which can be secured only by discovering the coveted gold and silver eggs. Only one of each is placed in each hunting ground, and it’s always hidden. For the one-to-three-year-olds — who can bring their parents along to help — it’s usually just covered by a leaf, but the older kids “will have to dig,” Tinger said. A map of their locations was made, just in case the youth center workers get too creative, because the hunts go until those two eggs are found.
The attractions make it possible to stretch the event out to three hours, which includes the flashy arrival of the ladder truck and the loud entrance of the two police cars carrying the Easter bunny and Darren, a lion looking for work after the end of the DARE program. Children armed with baskets and bags clustered around the two characters, seeking photo opportunities and perhaps advice on the hunt to come. The line for the bouncy house was long before the hunts began, and some children may have debated if they wouldn’t rather take advantage of the lull while the hunts happened in age-order succession.
Nevertheless, as one o’clock neared the children generally clustered near their designated zones. One aspect of creativity for these hunts is the gathering of intelligence. “When I was here this morning placing the eggs, there were a few cars that drove by really slowly,” Tinger said. One year, he was positive that someone standing on the nearby rail trail had binoculars. While not quite that crafty, many of the veteran hunters went in with strategies in mind, often starting with casing the hunting ground from its perimeter.
Victor and Charles, at four years old, had only fuzzy recollections of their last hunt, but were still looking forward to this one. The twin brothers agreed that to “get eleven eggs” would be a worthy goal.
Tiffany, a bit older, knew that the silver and gold at least would be covered in dirt. “You have to look under the ground,” she explained. She had every intention of filling her basket, but was well aware that the lighter eggs likely contained just a slip of paper, denoting a special prize as well.
Edward, like Tiffany, always cases the area first, he said, and had worked out a route in his head to secure eggs and reach likely hiding spots for the gold and silver. The ten-year-old planned on working in concert with Jaden to cover more ground. “The prizes aren’t that good,” Jaden remarked, “but it’s fun.”
Fatherly advice to “stay low to the ground” has to be balanced, in Edward’s mind, with the drawbacks. Low down makes spotting eggs easier, “but you can’t run as fast.”
The youngest hunters generally focus on the quantity of eggs, and toddle from the field with baskets groaning with the brightly-colored baubles. With their greater strength and dexterity, the parentless older kids jumped into the fray with zeal, kicking aside pine needles and tugging up grass in their zeal. They also seemed to have been whipped up to a frenzy by those early activities, for organizers had to stop the 10-to-12-year-old hunt at one point, to clear those underage from the hunting ground.
However, no injuries were reported and it appears a good time was had by all.