THE FIRST Thunder Hill Open Space Fair on Sunday drew more than 100 families. They came to walk, talk and play in the neighborhood parkland.
Activities and demonstrations were spread over a quarter-mile of meandering paths and through a hollow edged with trees behind the Thunder Hill neighborhood center.
"It's a wonderful resource," said fair organizer Heidi Vornbrock-Roosa, speaking about the open space in Thunder Hill. "Half of our mission is to make people more aware of what we have here."
Vornbrock-Roosa dreamed up the idea for the fair two years ago. She wanted to create the spontaneous, warm community feeling that she remembered from her childhood. Vornbrock-Roosa was born and raised in the house next door to where she resides in Thunder Hill.
"I think a lot of people would like to connect," she said. "But there is no way for people to easily get together."
The pace of life, she said, prevents neighbors from making time just to enjoy each other's company.
The fair filled the bill. Neighbors volunteered to set up and staff dozens of free activities. Children and adults could try everything from face-painting and bubble-blowing to bulb-planting and cockroach races during the five-hour celebration.
Along the path, sunlight filtered through mature tulip poplars, beeches and maples against a blue October sky.
In the shade, children and parents worked on crafts. Smoke rose from sizzling grills on a flat-topped knoll. The smell of hot dogs, hamburgers and roasted vegetables filled the air.
Eating and chatting with neighbors, picnicking families sat on lawn chairs or blankets laid out near the grills. Children ran from one activity to the next, their parents casually strolling behind.
Until they came to the cockroach races, that is.
A half-dozen kids swarmed around a little red wagon with an open cardboard track on top. About 50 Madagascar hissing cockroaches -- each larger than a man's thumb, some weighing as much as a mouse -- scuttled around the box.
Curious children happily picked them up. Most adults kept their distance.
"The race didn't go very well, but I think every kid here played with them," said Army Maj. Gene Cannon, who brought the gigantic roaches to the fair.
"They tickle," said Ben Caffey, 7, who didn't seem to mind that a roach was crawling up his arm under his shirt sleeve.
The cockroaches are descendants of a Smithsonian Institution colony. Hundreds of them are kept at Fort Meade's Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine.
Cannon, an entomologist, is chief of the division. He and his wife, Margie, have lived in Thunder Hill for four years. Their daughter Elizabeth, 10, goes to Thunder Hill Elementary.
Cannon said he is thrilled to be here. This is the longest he has been posted in any one place since his Army career began 22 years ago.
Names tags helped bring other neighbors together.
Korva Heck-Coleman has been working over the phone with another parent from Thunder Hill Elementary to raise funds for playground equipment. She was checking out the treats at the chocolate-tasting station when she noticed the name-tag worn by a volunteer filling sample cups with brownies.
"Jocelyn?" asked Heck-Coleman, hesitantly. Then she extended her hand across the table to Jocelyn Stevens, the woman she has been working with for two months.
"I'm Korva," she said. "It's so nice to meet you at last."
The women burst into wide smiles.
The two have collected more than $3,000 toward a goal of $30,000.
Vornbrock-Roosa was introduced to one of her volunteers in a similar way.
Marcia White signed up to help with the fair after seeing information about it on SunSpot, The Sun's Web site. She and Vornbrock-Roosa had never spoken.
"We've had an e-mail relationship going for a couple of months," White said.
Vornbrock-Roosa was walking up the path toward White and her husband, Kevin.
The Whites were busy watching Ed Miller at the Grandfather's Garden Center exhibit prepare to give a topiary demonstration.
When White mentioned that she was "looking for Heidi," Vornbrock-Roosa was quickly pointed out to her.
After a brief discussion together and a quick glance at Heidi's clipboard full of assignments, White turned toward her husband.
"See ya," she said. "I've got work to do."
Along one branch of the path, in the Thunder Hill schoolyard, the Kangaroo Kids jump-rope team demonstrated their skills and a juggling "how-to" clinic drew eager students.
The path curves toward a small pear-shaped pond at the foot of Daffodil Hill.
Young fair-goers helped plant the grassy slope with the namesake bulbs.
Not so long ago, hundreds of daffodils covered the hill.
"Kids would pick them on the way to school and teachers would have huge bouquets of daffodils on their desks," Vornbrock-Roosa said.
During the week, Mike Lilly and Warren Raymond of the Columbia Association's open-space management division cut the grass and cleaned up debris left by recent storms to prepare the area for planting.
Oakland Mills Village Board member Joel Roth said the village beautification committee provided 750 bulbs for the planting. Roth chairs the village architectural committee.
Roth, Columbia Council representative Earl Jones and neighbor Mary Lou McLauglin worked up a sweat as they twisted and plunged long-handled bulb planters into the clay soil.
As fast as they could open the earth, kids plunked the tuberous perennials into the holes.
Particularly skilled in dropping bulbs into holes were Danielle Desbordes, Gwen Kidera, Victoria Groves, all 10; Nicole Bylsma, 11; and Deirdre Kidera, 7.
After dropping the bulbs, they replaced the divot of earth and packed it in with a delicate stomp.
As the sun went down, families packed up and and got ready to head home. The cockroaches were safely stored in their jars.
"People really stayed," said Ginny Scimonelli, who was cleaning up the chocolate-tasting station. "The same people were here from beginning to end."
Additional news More news from east Columbia appears on Page 7B.
Pub Date: 10/05/99