MOUNT VERNON – On Saturday, hundreds of Knox County’s most crazed hunters will fill Memorial Park.
They’ll be armed with baskets. And they’ll be looking for eggs.
This year’s City of Mount Vernon Easter Egg Hunt will begin at 10 a.m. and conclude when all 3,240 eggs are captured. Only 150 will have numbers on the side – those can be exchanged for prizes at the end.
City recreation director Jerry Clinger said a number of local businesses have donated prizes for this year’s hunt. Paragraphs Bookstore, Domino’s, Down Home Leather, Dairy Queen and McDonald’s will all have goodies on the line. Some eggs can be exchanged for free movie passes at Premiere Theatre, or a few free bowling games at Colonial City Lanes.
There will be additional prizes scattered throughout the park, Clinger said, and they’re all up for grabs.
“Anything laying in the grass is good to go,” he said with a chuckle.
Kids ages 0-13 can participate in the hunt, and participants are encouraged to bring their own baskets. The hunt will be broken up into four age groups, Clinger said. Those ages 0-2 and 3-4 will share the Babe Ruth League baseball field, while kids ages 5-8 will hunt behind the skate park. The 9-13 year-olds will start at the shelter and hunt west.
Clinger has run the city’s Easter egg hunt for the last 27 years, as the head of the Recreation Department. He compares the Saturday before Easter at Memorial Park to the Fourth of July at Ariel-Foundation Park. It’s an event that brings the community together.
“That’s the whole reason why we do it, you know?” Clinger said. “To have a tradition of coming and looking for eggs... it’s just a great, little, fun chance that we can give back and they can do something fun in the park.”
But it’s never an easy process, Clinger added. Well before the day of the hunt, various community groups are working to make sure it runs smoothly.
The majority (240 dozen) of the eggs come from Croton. 10 days before the hunt, Clinger receives the eggs and takes them to Lakeholm Church of the Nazarene, located on Mount Vernon’s south end. Volunteers there color and boil the eggs.
As this is happening, the city’s Parks Department is working to clean up Memorial Park before the hunt. Staff members collect sticks, cut the grass, trim the trees and clean the bathrooms before upwards of 700 youngsters descend on the property.
“With all that they do, it kind of goes unnoticed,” Clinger said of the department. “They’re a big part of this, too.”
On the day of the hunt, Clinger and the city’s recreation board arrive early to hide the eggs. Clinger typically calls on summer park staff to help run the event, and the Mount Vernon Police Department is present for crowd control.
“It’s just a fun event for the community and the kids to mark the Easter holiday,” Clinger said, “and kind of a way to give back to the community.”
This year’s hunt will also be an opportunity to show off Harmony Playground, the park’s newest addition. In an effort spearheaded by the Knox County Board of Developmental Disabilities, the all-inclusive and adaptable playground opened this spring after years of planning. It includes musical equipment, a wheelchair swing, cozy cocoons and more. The playground is advertised as a place where children of all abilities can play together.
“Lots of people who haven’t seen it and been exposed to it will see it that day at the Easter egg hunt,” Clinger said.
The current forecast for Saturday calls for rain and temperatures in the mid-50s. That doesn’t concern Clinger, who has seemingly seen it all through three decades of egg-hunt management.
“We’ve hunted in snow, we’ve hunted in sprinkling rain,” Clinger said.
Rain or shine, he says, the hunt must go on.
“Those eggs will be sitting out there and they need found,” said Clinger, with the exuberance of a first-timer. “No matter the weather, we’ll have the hunt.”