Some Metro Detroit egg hunts have tried to decrease competition by enforcing rules and eliminating inside egg prizes

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Easter egg hunts are all fun and games ... until parents swoop up all the eggs and kids break out in tears. And then they’re not.

In an attempt to avoid parental melees, hurt feelings and even potential injury, several Metro Detroit parks and recreation departments and event organizers have started to enforce strict egg-gathering rules.

The city of Grosse Pointe, for instance, now requires attendees to use provided bags after parents started bringing their own larger baskets and stuffing them with as many eggs as they could.

The city hides 3,000 eggs in an annual Easter egg hunt for residents, which is more than enough for the 200 children who usually show up, said parks and recreation director Christopher Hardenbrook, who coordinated the 13th annual hunt Thursday.

The provided bag typically fits 10 or 15 eggs if they are stacked creatively, Hardenbrook said. Kids can then exchange the eggs for candy bags at the end. And no kid leaves without one.

“It is very regulated, sadly. We have to,” Hardenbrook said. “But it’s very organized. After doing this 12 years, we got it down to a T where everyone expects and anticipates what’s going to happen.”

Other cities locally and nationwide haven’t had as much luck keeping drama at bay.

In Multnomah County, Oregon, Rachel Townsend is suing the venue of an overcrowded egg hunt for $112,411 after allegedly suffering injuries last year. Townsend was separated from her niece and knocked to the ground, resulting in a torn meniscus, partially torn anterior cruciate ligament, sprains and strains, according to her lawsuit.

Clawson Mayor Penny Luebs knows how crazy these events can get.

As chair of the Clawson Youth Assistance program, she organized the eighth annual egg hunt at Clawson City Park last Saturday.

“It lasts from 10 a.m. to 10:03,” she said.

Why three minutes? Because that’s all it takes for 400 kids to gobble up 4,000 candy-packed eggs.

Everyone was limited to six eggs each but some left with far fewer.

“It didn’t even take two minutes until they were gone,” said Ashley Friedman, a 27-year-old Clawson resident at the park with daughter Madelyn, 3. “I just feel bad, there were kids that didn’t get any.”

Among the younger kids, 4-year-old Isabella Moon managed to get her hands on one egg before the rest were snapped up.

Two nearby children noticed Isabella’s somber mood and provided her with an extra egg each, said her mother, Amanda Moon.

“It seemed like the kids were trying to help each other out,” said Moon, 36, of Troy. “No one was pushing or being mean.”

But Moon had prepared for the possibility of a rough-and-tumble hunt.

“I did worry about that, which is why I went out with her,” she said.

‘Too competitive’

At the Lincoln Park bandshell on Sunday, one mother had trouble following the start time. The egg hunt was advertised as starting at 1 p.m. “sharp,” but at 12:56, the mother standing with kids in the 4-6 age group decided to yell “go!” And go they did.

“We asked them please to have their children drop their eggs back and get behind the line, and most of them did, but some of them didn’t,” said Maureen Tobin, president of the Lincoln Park Exchange Club that sponsors the annual event.

While it was not a “big issue,” she said next year she plans to increase the number of “spotters” in each age group to make sure “this does not happen again.”

The city of Southfield parks and recreation department got rid of its egg hunt altogether. Its other offerings now include organized egg-centered games, a magic show, petting zoo and obstacle course.

“(The hunts) were becoming a bit too competitive,” said Stephanie Kaiser, a marketing analyst for the department. “We were noticing some kids were coming back without any eggs, and we had more than enough out there.”

Last year, the Detroit Zoo learned the hard way that more competition isn’t always a good idea.

The zoo decided to spice up its popular “Bunnyville” egg hunt by roping off a smaller area filled with 1,000 eggs containing candy and trinkets. The regular egg hunt includes just 100 eggs spread over 125 acres that can be redeemed for prizes.

But Gerry VanAcker, the zoo’s chief operating officer, said the idea “kind of backfired.”

No one got hurt, but kids definitely left crying.

“Some of the guests broke the line, and they were jumping over the barricades and the tensions were so high,” he said. “We’re not going to offer that Easter egg hunt this year.”

Play nice

Rules are important when it comes to these activities, said Kaye Byrd, communications director for Wayne County’s Department of Public Services, which is organizing a 20,000-marshmallow drop in Trenton and Westland on Friday. The 33rd annual free event attracts thousands of kids, who collect the marshmallows redeemable for prizes.

“We have a very strategic way that we control (this),” Byrd said.

For one, the children are separated by three age groups and are instructed to stay behind a roped area until given the signal to go. A flier also emphasizes that the event is “NOT competitive.”

“Regardless of how many marshmallows are collected, each child will receive ONE treat,” it states. (Kids are discouraged from eating the marshmallows, given they’re dropped from a helicopter, and receive treats after.)

Byrd said they haven’t run into problems.

“Everyone’s nice, and they play nice,” she said.

Yet that wasn’t the case for Hazel Park resident Amber Louchart, who founded the parenting resource website metrodetroitmommy.com in 2010. She took her two kids, then 4 and 1, to the Catalpa Oaks marshmallow drop in Southfield three years ago and described it as “very chaotic.”

“There were kids running everywhere, stampeding basically, to pick up 30 marshmallows off the ground. That whole thing has kind of jaded me as far as participating in events that are on such a grand scale,” said Louchart, who blogged about the experience, writing that “injury or death is a real possibility.”

She cautions other parents considering massive egg hunts or marshmallow drops.

“My first advice would be not to participate in events that are so big. If you see 100-plus kids, then it’s probably not going to be the best activity,” she said.

Her second piece of advice: Don’t let your kids be part of the first wave of youngsters raging ahead.

“That’s when most of the kids are falling down and tripping over because they’re trying to get out there to be first,” she said.

In Greg McDougall’s opinion, the injuries and fights break out when eggs have prizes inside.

The special needs director at Woodside Bible Church in Troy, who organizes low-key egg hunts for children with sensory issues and physical disabilities, has kids turn eggs in for prizes such as candy, temporary tattoos and toys.

“Some of these hunts might advertise they’ve got money in only certain portions of the eggs,” he said. “That tends to drive people to be more competitive than they need to be.”

ssteinberg@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2156

Twitter: @Steph_Steinberg

Staff Writer Holly Fournier contributed.

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