BIDDEFORD — One hour. It doesn’t seem like a lot.

But every year, the Biddeford Recreation Department, in conjunction with the Heart of Biddeford and police and fire units, spends weeks preparing for their annual hour-long Easter egg hunt. Small, pastel-colored plastic eggs ”“ those staples of Easter ”“ are packed with candy by volunteers, and scattered about Biddeford-Saco Rotary Park, waiting for the eager hands of children as they stomp through open fields and copses of trees in the warmth of an early spring sun.

Debbie Drouin, enrichment coordinator for the recreation department, who helped to coordinate Saturday’s event, said volunteers spent about three weeks stuffing the eggs with goodies, which were provided by Hannaford and Shaw’s supermarkets. While the egg hunt has been held now for more than a decade ”“ 13 years, by Drouin’s count ”“ this is the second year that it has been included as part of a day-long Easter celebration that includes a downtown treasure hunt, followed by entertainment at McArthur Public Library.

Since the Heart of Biddeford has assumed the bulk of the cost of staging the event, said Drouin, the recreation department is now able to stage the egg-hunt free of charge for Biddeford residents.

That has resulted in a swell of bunny-eared egg hunters.

“This year, some people know about it because it was a free event,” said Drouin. “And the weather is absolutely perfect. That’s crucial to whether or not people come in high numbers.”

Shielding her eyes against the sun as she surveyed the throngs of children skipping eagerly through a sea of eggs, Drouin estimated that about 350 people attended this year’s egg hunt ”“ about a hundred more than last year.

Many were first-timers. Kristin Rheault and her mother Sharon brought Kristin’s 2 1/2 year-old son, Colby, to the event so he could spend some time frolicking in the park’s open fields.

“It gets the community together,” said Kristin Rheault. “It’s great to get the kids outdoors, especially if they don’t usually have any places to run.”

Mike Fecteau, youth sports coordinator for the recreation department, said Saturday’s turnout was perhaps the best ever. That comes as validation to those who worked to fill the estimated 2,700 eggs with various candies.

“That’s a lot of eggs,” said Fecteau.

For those adventurous enough to continue in the day’s festivities, the glitter of prizes was a powerful incentive. In Biddeford’s downtown, children were tasked with locating Easter bunnies in the store windows of several local businesses. Some encouraged the children to enter their establishments to find the well-hidden bunnies contained therein, and the treasure hunt concluded with a raffle in which several items were given away ”“ including three bicycles donated by Biddeford’s own Community Bicycle Center.

“They refurbish them, and they’re beautiful,” said Heart of Biddeford Director Delilah Poupore, who saw the late-morning activity as both a fun family event and a boost to downtown businesses.

“Our goal is to have a fun activity, but also to promote downtown and let people know what’s down there. Hopefully, a lot of people find out what kinds of things we offer.”

The day concluded with a puppet show at McArthur, featuring hand-crafted, life-sized puppets and marionettes. Puppeteer Lindsay Bezich has received rave reviews from other libraries, said Poupore, and was a coup for this year’s Easter celebration.

Todd and Cheryl Ouellette, who brought their 8-year-old son Andrew to the event, praised it as a worthwhile community gathering.

Andrew summed his feelings up succinctly: “If you don’t come out, you miss all the fun!”

— Staff Writer Jeff Lagasse can be contacted at 282-1535, Ext. 319 or [email protected].

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