For New Paltz families saddened by last spring’s cancellation of the annual Easter Egg Hunt down on Huguenot Street, there’s good news and bad news. And then there’s some more good news.
“It was definitely disappointing for us, too. This is the only event for which we particularly target that age group,” says Andy Vlad, assistant director of the New Paltz Youth Program, which provides activities primarily for middle and high school-aged kids. “Last year would’ve been the 33rd annual, but we canceled it, so it doesn’t count. So, we’re calling this year’s the 33rd.”
To Vlad’s knowledge, the beloved event had never been called off prior to 2020. “We do rain dates; we’ve done it in the snow. Nothing has prevented us doing it in the past – aside from a pandemic.”
Last year around this time, of course, the first wave of Covid-19 was rolling over the land; photos of bagged bodies stacked in mass graves in a potter’s field in New York City were hitting the airwaves; the thought of allowing clumps of small children to play together in close proximity was terrifying. There was no question of going forward with an event, however popular, that would put families in jeopardy simply for the sake of fun and tradition.
Fast-forward one year (well, not fast enough for most of us), and the landscape has shifted. Infection rates have declined since the winter holiday spike. After a rough start, with Ulster County not getting its fair share of doses, the rollout of vaccines is finally picking up momentum. Local school districts are getting ready to revive in-person classes. We can discern the light at the end of the tunnel. And the cabin fever usual to this time of year has been exacerbated by our long enforced isolation.
In short, many people really want their kids to be able to hunt for Easter eggs this spring – so many, in fact, that the revived event scheduled for this Saturday, March 27 was already fully booked by Monday, according to New Paltz Youth Program director Jim Tinger. There will be four one-hour time slots between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., each accommodating 150 children aged 1 to 10, separated by age group into different grassy fields on Huguenot Street. Filling those 600 places took only a few days after the event was publicly announced to be going forward.
That’s the bad news part of the story, if you’re not among the quick and lucky ones who secured a reservation for your littles. Fortunately, New Paltz community education coordinator Phoenix Kawamoto, who works in close partnership with the Youth Program, had a brainwave for a backup event at Hasbrouck Park that will run all weekend and is open to participants of any age. Vlad thinks that the newly launched Easter Stones Scavenger Hunt will even appeal to high school and college students.
“We’re painting stones as we speak,” he tells Hudson Valley One, as Youth Program volunteers lend a hand in turning 100 small flat river stones into cheerful talismans. “They’re going to be spread out throughout Hasbrouck Park. It’s not a timed event.” All day Saturday and Sunday, March 27 and 28, participants will be able to search for the brightly colored and numbered stones, checking them off an “inventory list” that’s downloadable at www.npyp.org, Vlad explains.
All who participate can then turn in their completed list to the Youth Center in exchange for a small prize. Spotting all 100 “in what is not a very cavernous park” should not be too difficult even for smaller children, says Vlad. “Let’s just say there will be no stone that requires any movement of the earth. And there will be none hidden in the new playground, because that’s the part of the park that has the most activity.”
Program staff members are putting their trust in Scavenger Hunt participants to leave the stones where they found them for the duration of the event, rather than take any home, so that they can be stored for reuse in the spring of 2022. The idea, according to Vlad, is for this fun new activity to become an annual New Paltz tradition.