While princesses danced under dreamcatchers, a streak of tigers prowled Sidney Friedman Park, hunting for fun. On Wednesday, catching their quarry was almost too easy.
Especially for one whiskery cub. He whizzed by on a scooter, past an Alpha Fire Company engine and a table of police officers. Rather than look worried, they smiled. They had seen this all before.
At the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts’ Children and Youth Day, a slice of downtown State College was sprinkled with tiny shoppers and tents, manned (or kidded) by a plucky yet precocious salesforce. Artists ages 8 through 18 peddled their wares, all original work, while their potential clients perused them with a discerning eye. Unfortunately, they couldn’t pay in glitter.
A parade of papier-mâché animals was planned for later in the afternoon.
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“It’s been great, we’ve hardly had a break in the action since we started,” said Adam Salyards, an officer with the State College Police Department who was directing traffic at a table. “I’m sending people for more supplies.”
The grown-ups’ turn comes Thursday when the rest of Arts Fest kicks off and the downtown area goes through another 24-hour metamorphosis.
But Wednesday belonged to the princesses, jungle cats and the next generation of artists. Some wore costumes in preparation for the afternoon grand procession, while others had gotten their faces painted in the park. One festivalgoer, Andrew Burgess, wore a Minecraft-inspired token around his neck. He said it was the coolest thing he’d seen that morning, high praise among the passels of crafts lining South Allen Street.
He walked over to the table where Salyards was keeping watch. Beneath a floppy cap, Andrew, 9, surveyed the banner sprawled out between them. Then he uncapped a marker and scribbled the words “thank you,” while his cousins, Madison and Ava Apjok, did the same. The trio beamed.
“I wrote ‘thank you for saving the world,’ ” Madison, 11, said.
Salyards, enjoying his first Children and Youth Day experience, was busy handing out pencils and stickers, smiling behind his sunglasses. He watched as the banner quickly filled with words of gratitude, each scribed in a small rainbow of bright hues. “I’m proud of what you do for this country,” wrote one messenger (the “u” in “proud” was doodled in later). “Thank you for serving us,” wrote another (the “g” was missing).
The banner will hang in the station, Salyards said, in the patrol area where the officers do their reports. That way, everyone in the office can easily see it.
“Adults have been writing on it, too,” Salyards added. “So it’s kind of nice.”
Across from Salyards’ table, Tony Berrena was helping a few nobles-in-training alight from an interesting carriage. The Alpha Fire Company’s Kubota sat behind a larger fire engine, where children hopped in and out with the help of volunteer firefighters. Berrena, the engine captain, asked about the kids’ day as they sat behind the Kubota’s wheel. For most, their feet didn’t reach the pedals.
Berrena was up with his fellow firefighters at 2 a.m., responding to a crash in Bellefonte. But he wasn’t too tired to answer questions.
“I had a little girl ask ‘what’s that for?’ ” Berrena said, pointing to the engine’s ladder and laughing. “... She stood there for a while and then and asked, ‘Well, do you take it off when you’re driving it?’ ”
He answered both queries. Berrena, who has helped with Children and Youth Day for several years, said his favorite part about the day was getting to meet new people and making the day special for the attendees.
“Just watching their expression, helping them out and answering questions,” he said, “it’s just amazing.”
Roger Van Scyoc: 814-231-4698, @rogervanscy