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With Unicorn Festival canceled again because of COVID, Bowie’s Big Purple Barn replaces it with celebration

COVID-19 prevented the annual Unicorn Festival in 2020 and then again this year, so The Big Purple Barn decided to do a limited event to celebrate unicorns on Sunday.

This festival usually brings crowds of around 3,000 people, said Tara Wahle, director of the barn. This unicorn celebration was a limited attendance event, broken up into two sessions. Next April, they are hoping to have the Unicorn Festival back.

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The Big Purple Barn has been part of the Bowie community for almost 20 years. The barn serves Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties, Wahle said.

Nneka Matlock, Bowie resident, brought her two daughters to visit the farm on Sunday.

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“It is a cute event and very magical. It was something fun for the kids to do,” Matlock said.

Matlock’s family lives close to the barn, so they had to check it out.

“It was fun to see my kids excited about the animals, and it is nice not to be stuck inside,” Matlock said. “I am glad they can come up close and personal with animals and not be afraid and can learn more about them.”

Wahle said they couldn’t have any events last year, only private visiting tours. But this year she wanted to have something to remember unicorns.

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“It feels great for us, and this is letting us see the community and getting people in the doors to visit the animals,” Wahle said. “The animals definitely missed some of the crowds we had at our big events. And they see us setting things up, so they know people are coming.”

To open the gates for the community felt great to Wahle after the barn had to “survive COVID.” Events like these help bring awareness and donations to the program. They plan to have one open house event every month until December.

Wahle felt a little rusty setting up for the event on Sunday, because it’s been so long.

“It did feel good to get back to decorate and celebrate,” Wahle said.

Many of the resident animals came from at-risk situations ― some having experienced abuse or neglect while others were slated for slaughter and had health concerns.

On average, it costs about $3,000 per month to provide for the animals’ feed and basic care. The barn currently has 15 horses, five goats, two pigs and five sheep.

The barn’s goal is to expand its outreach program and make animals accessible to people.

The volunteers at the barn play an important role in the day-to-day operations. Kelsey Blocker started volunteering at The Big Purple Barn last year.

“I am glad we can educate the public and advocate for the animals,” Blocker said. “I had to be a part of this experience when I heard about it.”

Blocker loves rescue horses and the transition they go through at the barn. She joined during the pandemic and events like these are her first experience of seeing how many people this barn impacts.

“Seeing the community that this place has is so inspiring and uplifting,” Blocker said.

On Sunday, Blocker was handling one of the older ponies and longest residents named Pudge. At 28 years old, Pudge helps out a lot with the riding and the outreach programs.

“Kids love his small size and calm demeanor. He is a great little outreach pony,” Blocker said.

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