Pumpkin Appreciation Days at Rocks State Park mean more than trekking off to the country and carrying home a pumpkin to decorate for Halloween.
For moms and dads from as far away as Harrisburg, Pa., but mainly from Harford and Baltimore counties, the event is an inexpensive family outing to share outdoors on a breezy, sunny fall day.
Yesterday, the event gave 8-year-old Steven Williamson of Bel Air the chance to decorate his very own pumpkin with green-glittered, blue triangular eyes and red hair -- without smearing even a drop of paint on his black-and-orange Orioles jacket.
"We used to attend the Apple Harvest Festival, but that has gotten too big," said Kevin Williamson, Steven's father. "This is more fun."
For 3-year-old Dennis Nasuta of Bel Air, the event, which continues today, offered a chance to paint an airplane on the side of a wooden cow.
"This is a great time for all of us," said Gary Nasuta, who attended yesterday with his son, wife, Mary, and 16-month-old daughter, Molly. "It's just a good time for the family, and it's cheap. The kids love the pumpkin hunt and the food.
The event is affordable at $2 a person, and the cider provides a welcome pick-me-up when the younger children are not occupied jumping off the hay mountain or listening to Park Rangers tell Native American stories. Slightly older children, seem to enjoy roasting hot dogs in the pavilion's large fireplace or hunting for pumpkins.
For Dave Cooper, park manager, and his staff, rangers Peggy Eppig, Richard McLaughlin and Jeff Scheine, the two-day affair, which typically draws 4,000, is the climax of months of planning and two weeks of actual preparation.
The most difficult task is picking the more than 4,000 pumpkins and trucking them from Pennsylvania into the Rock Ridge Picnic Area.
"We could never get this all done without our 47 volunteers, who provide much of the labor," said Ms. Eppig.
The Wilna Homemakers, a volunteer Harford County charitable organization, also does its part, selling homemade pies and cakes.
"We give 50 percent of our profit back to the park to help maintain the grounds here," said Elaine Moyer, Wilna Homemakers president.
Donations last year helped beautify the eroding hillside above the pavilion with a Native American plant garden.
"There just aren't many activities around suitable for the younger-aged kids," said Cathy Rickels, enjoying the day with her husband, Don, and 3-year-old son, D.J.
"It's great to be outdoors on a beautiful day and be around other people and kids having fun," said Don Rickels, the junior varsity soccer coach at Boys' Latin School.
The Rickels family of Forest Hill discovered Pumpkin Appreciation Days by accident last year while driving through the park.
"We made sure to check on the dates this year so we wouldn't miss it," Mrs. Rickels said.
The fifth annual event at the 1,045-acre site is co-sponsored by the Maryland State Park Foundation, Roy Rogers, Geneva Farms Golf Club, The Rocks Volunteers, the Wilna Homemakers, Atlantic Star Nursery, Conebrook Nursery, Kurt Bluemel and Stan and Sharon Kollar. The affair runs 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today.
The Rock Ridge Picnic Area may be reached from Bel Air by traveling north through Forest Hill on Route 24 and turning left at St. Clair Bridge Road. Follow signs and proceed about a mile, turning left at the picnic area.