Easter egg hunt at Annie's Playground on Saturday, April 4,2015, commemorating the 10th anniversary of the park dedicated to 6-year-old Annie Cumpston, killed in 2003 by a hit-and-run driver. (Matt Button, BSMG)
Families came by the carload early Saturday morning, creating a convoy that backed up traffic at least two miles.
The occasion was the 10th anniversary of Annie's Playground in Fallston, an expansive venue dedicated to 6-year-old Annie Cumpston, who was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver in 2003 while she and her family were leaving a circus in Baltimore.
For Annie's father, Tom Cumpston, the turnout of thousands, most of them children, left him overjoyed and overwhelmed. He said he regretted that some cars had to be turned away after every parking space at the facility as well as at two nearby churches was taken.
But the Jarrettsville man shouldn't have been surprised.
Cumpston's friends launched the effort that secured the land on Edgeley Grove Farm from the county and created the park. They spent two years raising the funds before construction began in September 2005. Local artists crafted paintings on playground equipment.
By the time Cumpston was fully aware of what was going on, the sign announcing the soon-to-be open playground had gone up.
"I can't take the glory for the initial part of it," Cumpston said. He said the project was spearheaded by Sharon Perfetti.
Perfetti later co-founded Cool Kids Campaign, a Towson nonprofit that serves children and families battling cancer.
"Losing your child, I don't care, it's the worst thing ever, and really we couldn't even live," Cumpston said. "Our lives, we felt, were over. And we tried to get through, and we had all friends and family who came to us and said that they found the parkland, which started out as a cornfield.
"They came out and brought us here," Cumpston said. "They put a cover over a sign and they unveiled it and it said, 'Future Site of Annie's Playground.' All that was in the background was nothing but corn. … No one imagined it. That was a surprise to us."
A Harford County Parks and Recreation site, Annie's Playground comprises a treehouse, an outdoor classroom, a puppet theatre, slides, a baseball area and a memorial garden. It is flanked by a sports complex, parking trails and picnic areas.
"It grew to one of the largest in the country," said Cumpston. He said the project cost about $1.5 million.
Saturday's anniversary was part of the park's Eggstravaganza, a fundraiser that featured games and prizes, an Easter egg hunt, free fingerprinting for children and visits from a Maryland State Police Medevac helicopter and a Fallston Volunteer Fire and Ambulance fire truck.
The fire truck ended up taking part in an Easter Egg Drop after strong winds prevented a local helicopter team and the state police unit from taking part. Firefighters dropped eggs from a truck ladder that extended 105 feet in the air.
"We had a lot of fun," said Emma Huddler, 11, of Abingdon, as she and her family left the event. "We got to find Easter eggs and [collect] Easter eggs that dropped from the firetruck."
Saturday's fundraiser will provide revenue for redoing plaques throughout the park and for fixing equipment, Cumpston said.
"I hope the park is an inspiration, where people can get together with their family," he said. "More than ever it's giving that precious time, the little time we do have together. When you put that in perspective — all the families and the time and the kids — life is so difficult as it stands, with stress and running around, it gives them time to sit back, relax and spend time."
The playground continues to be a community magnet 10 years after its inception.
"We came to support Annie's Playground," said Emily Jaggi-Kight. "Most of us know the story behind it.
"We wanted to come to be here to support the family and the community that came together and built this playground from a single swing to what you see now."