Lily Sanford picked up a few, small plastic eggs first thing Saturday morning as part of King George’s Community Egg Hunt, and as she scanned the ballfields and buildings at a second location, the 13-year-old had her hands on her hip and her eyes on the prize.

“I’m looking for the big golden egg,” she said, focused on capturing the top treasure—the $100 gift card—in the King George Department of Parks & Recreation’s annual event.

She was on the backside of King George High School, checking out sports equipment. She looked around an old football sled—the kind linemen push in practice—then patted the foam mat used by practicing pole vaulters. When neither yielded an egg, she headed to the softball fields, peering under bleachers and around flower beds.

She saw a pile of netting, used in batting cages, in front of a shed and walked over to it.

Lily circled the mass a couple times, then stepped on the pile and poked around it with her foot. Something didn’t feel quite right, so she lifted the netting and voila—there was a black garbage bag.

In it was the prize egg, gleaming gold and twice the size of a football.

The seventh-grader at King George Middle School beamed as she skipped from the grass to the nearby sidewalk. Her 4-year-old brother, Callan Blain, marched beside her, repeating, “We found the golden egg” in a singsong voice.

Lily was among 290 people and 75 families who scoured the terrain at 12 county-owned locations on Saturday, looking for prizes. Small plastic eggs, filled with toy rings or chocolate, littered the grass and walkways for the youngest searchers.

Bigger prizes, designed for teens and adults, required more effort. Organizers tucked baskets in boxwood bushes and hid eggs in trees, paper boxes or between a driver’s ed car and parking block at King George High School. That’s where one of three silver eggs, valued at $50, was hidden.

People had to move their feet to win the prize most sweet in the Community Egg Hunt, which has been part of King George’s Easter celebration for about a decade.

“It’s something fun, and the people love it,” said Janine Paulsen, program supervisor.

Prizes include more than $2,000 in gift cards and certificates. Area stores and businesses donated everything from pizzas, subs and shrimp dinners to movie tickets and a free oil change. Members of the King George Quilting Bees even provided warmth on a cool April night in the form of two handmade blankets, quilted in spring patterns and colors.

Over the years, the Parks & Rec team has learned how to curb the enthusiasm of over-eager adults who’ve been known to—there’s no other way to say it—cheat over the chance to win a gift card to dinner.

Registrants got a page of rules along with their list of county locations—schools, parks and office buildings—where eggs were placed about 6:30 Saturday morning. (The team used to do that the night before, but too many people scoped out locations ahead of time.)

After eggs were hidden, Parks & Rec workers and volunteers stayed at each place because families were told they couldn’t start until 8 a.m. on the nose. “Remember, we have eyes watching you!” the rules read.

Families were asked to limit their collection to 10 small eggs and three treat bags, filled with coveted items such as bubble wands and Easter socks, marshmallows and toy helicopters. The bigger prizes had tickets on them, which had to be redeemed at the Citizens’ Center, and families were asked to limit the big prizes to one per family.

Not everyone complied, but Ava Newman, 8, clearly understood the rules. As she ran around the Citizens’ Center with her grandparents, Kenny and Becky Newman, she did what Paulsen called the “drop and release” of treat bags.

After she’d put some bags in her basket, she decided she had her fair share and told her “Papa” she’d put the rest back for someone else.

Patrick McGarrity’s four sons, ages 2, 4, 6 and 10, also limited the number of items in their buckets.

“It’s not fun if everybody’s not getting something,” he said.

While teenagers like Lily focused on the grand prize, youngsters like Aubryana Sindel, 4, were thrilled to add a new color to their basket.

“Mommy, I found a yellow egg,” she cried out in excitement.

Devin LaMoy, who hid the golden egg, said keeping the event fun for kids of all ages required a delicate balancing act. He hearkened back to his days of hiding eggs for his four younger siblings, when the level of difficulty ranged from a “1” for his 2-year-old sister to a “5” for his 13-year-old brother.

He didn’t want the search for the golden egg to be so hard that it became tedious or so easy that it was found too soon. Likewise, he wanted to reward efforts, but not penalize someone who couldn’t reach as high or lift something as heavy. That’s why he didn’t open a barbecue lid and hide the egg inside the grill.

“It’s all about the hunt and the finding of the egg,” LaMoy said, “rather than the strength of obtaining the egg.”

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425

cdyson@freelancestar.com

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