Brandy Dell'Arciprete picked up a brush and carefully painted black eyes, nose and a mouth on her kid-sized pumpkin.
"He's going to be a Halloween pumpkin," said the 6-year-old from Bel Air.
Her mother, Melanie, and cousin, Natalie Denhardt, brought the first-grader to Rocks State Park yesterday for the sixth annual Pumpkin Appreciation Days, a weekend-long family fall festival.
"It's fun for the kids," Mrs. Dell'Arciprete said.
The Rock Ridge picnic area was a pumpkin lovers' paradise, ripe with thousands of the brightly colored fall fruit. Children crowded around picnic tables to decorate pumpkins, generously slathering on paint and glitter, or painstakingly creating perfectly proportioned jack-o'lantern faces.
"It reminds me of when I went to a birthday party and we got to glue things on a pumpkin," said Amanda Cook, 7, a second-grader at Norrisville Elementary School. "There's lots of cider here and lots of fun things to do."
Staff members and volunteers picked 5,000 medium-sized "spookies," rolled in 40 super-sized pumpkins and 12 bushels of "jack-be-littles" and gourds for an expected 3,500 visitors. They also ordered 100 gallons of cider, 75 half-bushels of apples and 7,000 hot dogs.
"We wanted to have a nice end-of-the-year party for the public," said David Cooper, the park manager. "This is a nice family fun day without a Halloween theme. We wanted an alternative to that. It's just lots of fun stuff for kids to do."
When park staff members first began planning an autumn festival, they settled on a pumpkin theme and decided that since Maryland has Chesapeake Appreciation Days, there should be a similar celebration for pumpkins. Pumpkin Appreciation Days has continued to grow, and last year raised $7,000 to support a variety of park programs.
The thick morning fog lifted just in time for yesterday's festivities. As the sun filtered brightly through a canopy of leaves alive with fall color, families arrived by the carload for pumpkin decorating, pumpkin hunts and other fall fun.
They sipped cider, crunched apples and nibbled on hot dogs grilled or cooked on sticks over an open fire. The Wilna Homemakers club sold pumpkin baked goods to raise additional money for the park.
"I enjoy the fellowship," said Nadine Horton of Fallston, a special project leader for the club. "And I enjoy helping the park."
Not far from the food pavilion, children played on hay mountain. Many, like Scott and Bryan Hendricks, 9-year-old twins from Norrisville, scrambled up and down the pyramid of 195 hay bales.
"I like the pumpkin festival because it's really interesting," said their friend Robbie Barry, 9, of Norrisville. "It's a nice day in the fall. You get to paint animals. They're wood, of course. And I think the haystack's really neat."
"I like climbing up it to jump down," agreed his 6-year-old sister, Alison. "And I like those hot dogs."
About 14 staff members and 12 volunteers ran the day's activities. Mr. Cooper's 14-year-old daughter Becky was busy at the grill; her 12-year-old sister Emily helped with the pumpkin hunts.
"It's kind of hard not to be caught up in the pumpkin days," Becky said. "It's fun."
Patrick Dailey, a deputy with the Harford County Sheriff's Office, often patrols the park area and readily agreed to volunteer. Yesterday he was busy making and handing out bag after bag of popcorn.
"It's always a fun weekend," said Mr. Dailey, who plans to work again today. "You get the parents and the kids together all having a good time. I'm having a ball."
Pumpkin Appreciation Days continues today from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Rocks State Park off Route 24. There will be pumpkin hunts for children 6 and under at 12:30 p.m., 2 and 4 p.m.; sing-alongs at 12, 1 and 3:30 p.m.; storytelling at 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.; and break the pinata at 2:30 and 4:30 p.m. The $4 per person admission includes a pumpkin for each child, hot dogs, cider and apples. Information: 557-7994 or 836-6735.