Bye-bye, Bancroft eggs
Media exaggerations about parental interference gain national exposure

       The Bancroft Park Easter Egg Hunt has been cancelled this year.
       It was a free, annual, children-themed event, started by the Old Colorado City Associates (OCCA) business group in 1998.

Seeming to belie a national news story alleging "hundreds of parents" interfering, a scene from the 2011 Old Colorado City Associates Egg Hunt (ages 5-8) shows a large crowd but only a few adults among the hordes of Bancroft Park egg-seekers - and several of these were monitors, such as the Easter Bunny (white, center) and a mountain man (rear left).
Westside Pioneer photo

       The hunt (featuring plastic “eggs” containing candy or prize slips at different Old Town stores) was originally a lightly promoted favor for neighborhood residents, according to former OCCA leader Nancy Stovall. But participation increased over the years through word-of-mouth, and - augmented by citywide advertising since 2009 - it appears to have become a victim of its own success.
       Event volunteers Mazie Baalman and Patte Birtz, both Old Town business owners, described a scene that was hard to manage because of the hundreds of people, even with the hunts divided into three separately starting age groups, each with its own area of eggs set out on the grass.
       “It's gotten bigger and bigger, and because of that it costs more to organize and manage,” said Baalman, whose support has also included sponsoring it with her Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory store and personally wearing an Easter Bunny suit for the event. “Even with the age groups divided up and Boy Scouts helping, we didn't have good monitoring. Nobody wants to volunteer. Either we'd have to pay people or get more volunteers.”
       There were a few complaints, she and Birtz said, although they believed the vast majority of participants went away happy.
       According to Dave Van Ness, the OCCA executive director (who was not at the 2011 Egg Hunt), the decision by the OCCA board came about because “many (not all) of the members thought there was little or no benefit to their business and that's the mission of OCCA. They say that people came for the eggs, then jumped back in their cars and left with little or no thought to shopping.”
       The cancellation decision emerged through other news media in recent weeks, and has had a backfire effect. Additional comments by Van Ness, citing “aggressive parents” for problems at last year's hunt, became the focus in TV and news articles. The story even wound up on a national news website, including the grossly innacurate statement that “hundreds of parents reportedly jumped over ropes into a kids-only section of the hunt to ensure their kids got as many eggs as possible.”
       An Associated Press story interviewed “parenting observers” for opinions on how such presumed actions exemplify “helicopter parents” who are overly worried that their children will fail.
       Van Ness, Baalman and Birtz expressed disappointment at such coverage. “What gets me is how it's been blown out of proportion,” said Birtz, who owns the Santa Fe Springs store.
       “I just want the whole thing to go away,” Van Ness said. “I suggested to a couple of the news persons calling that I wish they would give us that kind of coverage for Territory Days.”
       In the Egg Hunt's early years, Stovall (who owned a shop then) said it was meant to be a “thank-you” to the surrounding neighborhood for putting up with the parking, trash and noise from the OCCA's annual three-day Territory Days. “We'd get calls from parents, about how much fun it (the hunt) was.”
       But after several years like that, the majority of business owners on the OCCA board decided that for all the time and money being invested, the event ought to have more marketing appeal. Stovall was in the minority, believing that, as she put it, “You can only invite the world when you can handle the world.”
       Another problem last year was when the public address system went balky before the last of the hunts, so some kids jumped the start, according to Baalman. A worse goof happened in 2009, resulting in all the eggs getting scooped up before any of the official hunts actually took place. The OCCA responded then by hastily finding more goodies and having a hunt “re-do” that seemed to placate most participants.
       Despite the recent bad publicity and other OCCA concerns, Birtz and Baalman believe the hunt could still return, at least in some form.
       “I'm hoping things can be corrected,” Birtz said. “A lot of people worked real hard on it.”
       Baalman envisions an event that could be a scavenger hunt through Old Colorado City itself. But complaints are inevitable, she believes. Even in the past, “a year hasn't gone by that we haven't gotten at least one report that 'someone stole my kid's egg' or 'stepped on my hand.' ”

Westside Pioneer article