The expansive lawn in front of the Sherwood Farm mansion at Cromwell Valley Park is usually deserted in March, although sometimes a cardinal or other winged visitors perch in shrubbery.
That will change Saturday morning, March 30, when hundreds of children descend on the grounds for the 18th annual Easter egg hunt, seeking candy-filled plastic eggs or to show off paper-plate Easter bonnets they have made
Youngsters and adults will also admire rabbits brought by 4-H Club members, dye hard-boiled eggs, greet the Easter Bunny and more.
The egg hunt has long been a showcase activity and drawing card for the nature-oriented park.
"It's a way to expose people to the park and the 400 acres we have here," said Leo Rebetsky, who manages the county-owned site.
He estimates between 200 and 300 people will show up, almost all in families, arriving in about 75 cars. Children will hunt for 1,300 plastic eggs, each containing two pieces of candy.
"The hunt takes a few minutes," he said. "They find the eggs, just like that," snapping his fingers to signify the kids' rapid candy-claiming technique. "So, we make a whole morning out of it. ... We emphasize getting people outside."
Preparing for the big event is more than Rebetsky and his five-person staff can handle, so most of the work falls to the Cromwell Valley Park Volunteer Council.
"We depend very much on our volunteers," Rebetsky said.
A park council director and key organizer of the egg hunt, Carole Ziegler, of Parkville, recalled that in 2005, retiring after 36 years working for Baltimore County Social Services, she didn't know of the park's existence. She answered a volunteer inquiry, answered a phone call and found herself pulling weeds in front of Sherwood House.
She was then contacted by the late Rob Zapf, one of the park's original volunteers, and asked to participate in a children's educational program.
"And I stopped weeding," she said.
Now, she greets buses pulling into the park filled with children from the city and county. Some are already savvy about nature. Some are special-needs children. Some are in wheelchairs.
For some, the surrounding woods are a forbidding place.
"Some wonder, 'Are there tigers?' " she said.
Ziegler will be putting in long hours the day before the egg hunt, filling plastic eggs and preparing activity stations for youngsters.
Kim Shapiro, of Kingsville, has been a park volunteer since 2003. She will be the one in the bunny suit on egg hunt day, the fifth consecutive year she has donned the outfit.
The original suit she inherited for the role was too big, so she made her own.
She noted that the big Easter Bunny sometimes does not sit well with small children.
"There are a lot of kids afraid of the Easter Bunny," she said, throwing up her hands in mock alarm to emphasize some children's reaction to her appearance. "Who is this?"
Her friends, along with Zapf, drew her into the role of park volunteer. During special events she is often found grinding corn and making apple cider. In warm weather, she helps oversee the children's garden, where beans, carrots and potatoes are sown and grown.
"Kids get to see how their food grows on the farm," Shapiro said.
Cromwell Valley Park, on the north side of Cromwell Bridge Road about a mile east of Beltway Exit 29, is one of the county's "passive use" parks, meaning it has no athletic fields and is oriented toward nature programs. Its education center in the Willow Grove part of the park invites children to make gourd bird houses, tap maple trees, learn orienteering and even camp out overnight by a bonfire.
All this — including a fall festival that is even more crowded than the egg hunt — is possible through the work of those who donate their time, Rebetsky said.
"We depend very much on our volunteers," he said. "We always need more people, It's an ongoing push."
The egg hunt is organized strictly for the kids — no adults are allowed in the egg hunt area. The event is free and no reservations are required.
Times are set aside for different age groups — ages 3-4 at 10:30 a.m., ages 5-6 at 10:45 a.m., ages 7-8 at 11 a.m. and ages 9-10 at 11:15 a.m.
Even if a child's egg-finding skills are not sharp, candy-filled eggs are held in reserve and no child is completely disappointed.
"Everyone goes home with at least one egg," Rebetsky said.
If weather is questionable on egg hunt day, call the park office at 410-887-2503.