Kelly Antoshak, 5, wrapped her arms around a pile of brightly colored plastic eggs on the floor and dropped them into a large wicker basket.
Cora Harrison sat on a couch nearby making bows for the stuffed animals that would be awarded as prizes.
And Jane Pessagno checked a small pile of eggs to be sure each contained a piece of chocolate candy.
The group delighted in the task but had little time to admire - much less sample - their handiwork. There were thousands of plastic eggs to be filled and dozens of prizes to be prepared for the Easter Egg Hunt at Rockfield Manor in Bel Air. In its fifth year, the event has grown from a couple of hundred children to as many as 1,000, organizers say.
They aren't the only ones hard at work preparing for this annual rite of spring. During the past decade, the number of egg hunts in Harford has grown from about eight to more than 40, popping up like daisies throughout the county.
And what traditionally was an event for children held at a church on Easter Sunday has evolved to include events at businesses, on museum lawns, at parks and at schools, held during a stretch of several days surrounding the holiday.
Coordinators of egg hunts in the county say that the number of participants is rapidly growing, too. Good weather seems to be the only prerequisite for a big turnout, said Harrison, a board member at Rockfield Manor, a county-owned historic estate that is for meetings and events. This year's event is scheduled at 1 p.m. on April 15. The cost is $5.
During the first couple of years, the Rockfield egg hunt, which serves as a fundraiser for the manor, attracted about 300 children. A couple of years ago, 1,000 youngsters showed up.
"The weather was beautiful, and people were everywhere," Harrison said.
To keep the turnout manageable, the organizers began to limit the hunt to children age 6 and under.
"We also did this because the little kids were getting one egg, and the older kids were getting baskets full," Harrison said. "The little ones pick up an egg and sit down on the ground and open it and eat the chocolate. The older ones grab as many eggs as they can."
Some hunt organizers have found ways to accommodate older children. Mountain Branch Golf Course in Joppa is hosting its fifth Easter Egg Hunt and Breakfast with the Easter Bunny from 9 to 11 a.m. on Saturday, which includes a light brunch, games and crafts for a $10 fee. The hunt is divided into three age groups (3 and under; 4 to 6; and 7 and older).
While golf courses typically offer few activities for young children, course general manager Christopher Sheaffer said the hunt is something they want to do for kids.
"Our hunt is kid-friendly and a chance for kids to visit with the Easter Bunny, who hops around the course for photos and autographs," Sheaffer said. "We see more people every year."
The Mountain Branch hunt is open to the public, but reservations are required.
In some cases, the growth is so substantial that organizations have had to limit the number of children who participate, as was the case with the Bel Air Athletic Club, which holds its hunt indoors. "We started our hunt by offering it to anyone who wanted to attend," said Patty Strawderman, the youth sports manager at the club who coordinates the hunt. "But we would have hundreds of people show up."
To stem the tide, the club decided to limit the hunt to 150 members who must pre-register for the event, which is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Saturday. The fee is $5.50.
And some groups place even tighter restrictions on their hunts, limiting them to the children in their neighborhood. Examples are some hunts coordinated by housing associations, such as one organized by the Trails of Glen Eagle association as a way to build camaraderie among neighbors.
"No one comes out in the winter to talk, so this is a great time to catch up on what's happening with people in the neighborhood and celebrate spring," said Trish Saboy, a member of the association committee that coordinates the hunt. "It's a great social event."
The Glen Eagle hunt will be held from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at Shamrock Park in Bel Air for about 65 children ages 1 to 12. The fee is $2. Each parent of a participating child drops off 24 eggs filled with candy, stickers or other small prizes. The eggs are hidden along with 24 golden eggs that contain prizes.
Many of the features from the first hunt have endured, but one major change was made: They eliminated the Easter Bunny.
"Some of the small children cried and were scared of the Easter Bunny, so we forgo that now," Saboy said.