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mEGGa Egg Hunt!

Columbia County egg hunt one of largest in the region
by: Rick Swart, Donovan Smith, 2, of Rainier takes cover behind his mother Angie Smith’s leg when passersby ask to inspect his newly acquired basket of brightly covered eggs.

A picture-perfect spring day greeted more than 3,000 people at the Columbia County Event Complex Saturday for the eighth running of the mEGGa Easter Egg Hunt.

There 1,381 youngsters, egged on by 1,594 cheering adults, grabbed 26,000 brightly colored plastic eggs stuffed with goodies and tickets that could be cashed in for Easter baskets, stuffed animals, games and other prizes handed out by members of the local Rotary and Kiwanis clubs.

'This is the mother of all hunts,' said state Sen. Betsy Johnson, who despite fighting a cold spent the morning working as announcer of the event and manning the information booth.' Johnson said the Columbia County event is one of the largest, if not the largest, of its kind in western Oregon. 'This is a huge event, and it takes an army of volunteers,' she said.

That army included the members of 20 churches, service organizations, and businesses, plus 191 individuals, including 97 kids, who did everything from clean and hide eggs to patrol the egg grounds to keep hoards of anxious youngsters at bay until the Columbia River Search and Rescue fire engine siren blew. That army also included politicians, who saw it as an opportunity to shake hands and kiss babies on the eve of Oregon's primary election. Rep. Brad Witt greeted people at the main entrance. Columbia County Commissioner Rita Bernhard, the board of commissioners' liaison to the fair, worked the crowd with a large basket of chocolate candy that was free for the taking.

The mEGGa Hunt is second in scope only to the county fair, according to Ronda Courtney, manager of the Event Complex and fair.

'We definitely had more people than we've ever had before,' said Courtney, who attributed the large turnout to sunny skies and 60-degree weather. 'The weather was our friend.'

The Easter egg hunt is a popular local tradition, according to Evelyn Hudson, chairman of the Columbia County Fair Board, who started the annual Easter egg hunt in 2000 after years of taking her own kids to another large egg hunt sponsored by Alpenrose Dairy in Beaverton.

'I thought why not here?' Hudson said of the beginnings of the Columbia County event.

Since then the event has grown every year, as more and more individuals and organizations joined the fun. A core group of 10 individuals works year round cleaning eggs, soliciting new donations, posting flyers in local schools, gathering prizes, filling eggs and making signs.

'There is a lot of hard work that goes into something like this,' said Hudson.

The event is free to the public, and organizers work hard to cover their costs, and Hudson said she is committed to making sure that it remains as a free event.

'This is one way we give back to the community,' she said. 'If we don't have all the donations we need, we work harder to go get them.' People are happy to help. In addition to the almost 200 volunteers, those who attended Saturday's event voluntarily chipped in $1,987 in cans set up around the grounds. That money will be used to defray costs of next year's egg hunt, according to Hudson.

The event is larger in scope than just turning hundreds of kids loose in an egg-gathering free-for-all. Leading up to the siren, the fair grounds are abuzz with other activities, including face painting, pictures with the Easter bunny, an archery demonstration, pony rides and coloring contest. The Sheriff's Posse patrolled the parking lot on horseback, which is one of their favorite duties of the year, according to Jill Christiansen, a member of the posse.

The event is environmentally conscience as well.

As soon as the plastic eggs were picked clean by the kids the 'shells' are placed in bins so they can be recycled next year.

'We have 26,000 eggs, and when you leave them here the Easter Bunny can fill them up for next year,' Sen. Johnson told the throngs of egg hunters on their way out of the grounds.

Courtney said that process has already begun, and will continue for months in the kitchens of places like Wauna Federal Credit Union and people's homes.

Organizers were happy with how Saturday's event went.

'The main thing is it's a lot of fun,' Hudson said.

'This was a great event,' added Susie Wilson, a real estate agent from St. Helens, 'Very, very organized. Very, very well run.'