AUGUSTA — Despite the heat wafting up from the asphalt between breezes, thousands flocked to the Whatever Family Festival Kids Day at the Augusta Civic Center on Saturday.

Shade was lacking in the Civic Center’s parking lot, where the festival had to be moved because of sodden ground in Capitol Park.

But that didn’t bother Tonya and Taylor Hathcock, who are accustomed to sultrier summers.

“It’s, like, 100 degrees in Louisiana,” Tonya Hathcock said. “This is OK with me.”

It was the first Whatever Family Festival for Tonya and 8-year-old Taylor, who have moved to central Maine while her husband works on the Central Maine Power expansion project.

The Hathcocks spent some time at a tent set up by Old Fort Western, where Taylor tried out old-fashioned toys including tops, ball-and-cups and whirligigs, also called buzzsaws.

Taylor said he plays video games at home, but he actually liked the wood-and-string toys better.

“They’re fun and exciting,” he said.

More than 60 booths and activities were set up at the Civic Center on Saturday, said Peter Thompson, president and CEO of the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce, which organizes the festival.

“Many of smaller tents are nonprofit organizations,” Thompson said. “They find this to be a valuable way to spread the word about what they do.”

At the Old Fort Western tent, historical re-enactors gave families a small glimpse into life 250 years ago. In addition to playing with toys, children lined up to clean clothes on a washboard and hang them up to dry.

“Today they’ve been learning how different it was to do laundry in the days when people were living at the fort,” said Loretta Lathe, an Old Fort Western employee helping at the tent. “Everyone thinks that it’s really funny that we’re getting the kids to do our laundry.”

More than 100 organizations sponsored the festival this year, enabling everything to be offered free other than food.

“The goal is for the local businesses to have an opportunity to give back to the community,” said Lynne Burney, program director for the chamber. “We have a lot of mom-and-pops, a lot of little ones, along with the majors.”

Burney said this was the 16th Kids Day, and it has grown from one stage and a couple of dozen activities to an event that draws 8,000 to 10,000 people each year.

Kids Day has become a major event in the life of Ivan Brown of Manchester, whose mother went into labor at the festival four years ago. Ivan celebrated turning 4 with his parents and two brothers at Kids Day on Saturday.

“The bounce houses were the big draw for them,” said Eric Brown, Ivan’s father. “We got here early, and the lines were pretty good.”

“We only went to two,” 6-year-old Griffin said. “Are we going to get to go to some more?”

“I think so,” his father answered.

Over in the touch a truck area, children were eager to climb into as many trucks, tractors and pieces of construction equipment as they could.

After coming down from the seat of a front-end loader, 7-year-old Emily Fortin, of Augusta, showed that she had seen them in action before.

“It gets sand and stuff,” she explained, “and it puts that thing up in the air and then it twists and puts it in piles of sand.”

Dominick Dow, 6, of Richmond, thrilled to sit high in the cabin of a Hammond Lumber truck and pull on the air horn.

His mother, Emily Dow, could barely hold him back as he raced to try another truck, which had a familiar green comic book character painted on the hood.

“Look!” Dominick exclaimed. “It’s the Hulk!”

Susan McMillan — 621-5645
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