By Don Bolding
Killeen Daily Herald
Crowds that included grandparents and children in strollers checked out Killeen's celebration of National Play Day at the city's annual Kidsville event Saturday afternoon at the Killeen Community Center.
Officials counted 2,100 visitors to the event, which started at noon and closed at 5 p.m.
Kidsville this year was the Western-themed kickoff for 10 events designed to assess the preferences of children and youth in recreational facilities, said city parks and recreation director Brett Williams. The entire project is connected with Killeen's designation by the nonprofit KaBOOM! organization as one of 93 "Playful City USA" communities across the country, including six in Texas.
Williams said Killeen's selection on the list is largely connected with new family-friendly facilities at Lions Club Park.
The other Texas cities are the Dallas-Fort Worth suburban cities of Arlington, Euless and Grand Prairie plus Corpus Christi and San Antonio. Their projects are a mixture of efforts by local government, nonprofit service groups and businesses.
Cooperating groups here include the Armed Services YMCA and the Boys and Girls Clubs, which will sponsor a play day of their own.
Williams said Killeen City Manager Connie Green was the most important driving force behind Killeen's efforts to use the project to make the city kid-friendly.
"We got a start on this last year but couldn't follow it through," Williams said. "This year, we're better organized and better focused, and it's going to happen."
By 1 p.m. the center's parking lot was full. Lines of children and parents were several dozen deep at most activities, which included face painting, inflatable bounce houses, a cotton candy stand and other food booths and an arts and crafts room. Clowns made their way through the crowds along with wandering servers dispensing hot wings. A professional "singing cowboy," Freddie Fuller of Salado, presented four shows during the afternoon.
These events were all inside. Outside was another bounce house, a portable fishing pond, carriage rides and a petting zoo. The Killeen Fire Department had two trucks to teach children about fire safety.
The day was to end with an evening showing of the movie "Bolt" in the adjacent amphitheater.
Janie Emery of Killeen, retrieving her children, Gabriel, 4, and Ellena, 6, from the rear of a huge plastic dragon, said, "Last year this was all outside, and it was so hot. I'm glad they put part of it inside this year."
Lisa Larosa, attending with several generations of her family including Ian, 2, and Lily, 4, said, "We were just driving by and saw all the activity. I'm really happy they're doing this. Fort Hood has family activities all the time, and we really need something outside the gates for the civilians."
Williams said that among other events planned before the Celebrate Killeen festival next April are a "water weekend," an event planned especially for smaller children to note their response to different offerings, a similar festival to test the popularity of more physical activities like skateboarding for older youth, and an event for special-needs children.
He said city council members will observe all the activities and seek input from the community to help determine priorities.
Since its founding in 1995, KaBOOM! has aided the construction of 1,600 new playgrounds, skate parks, sports fields and ice rinks, its Web site said.
Contact Don Bolding at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7557.