By Geri Gibbons, Wilkes-Barre Times Leader
WILKES-BARRE — John Maday remembers running early one morning as the sun came up and noticing sidewalks filled with children’s artwork drawn with chalk.
“I guess kids are still doing that,” the executive director of the Riverfront Parks Committee and Wilkes-Barre resident thought.
At the next meeting of the committee, he asked, “Why don’t we give children chalk and let them draw, while providing environmental education?”
The idea caught on and now, seven years later, many area residents have made “Chalkfest and Hydromania” an annual family tradition.
“This, right here, is our classroom,” Maday said during Saturday’s edition of the annual event at the Millennium Circle portal on the River Common.
Kim Albert, Chalkfest’s volunteer coordinator, said she noted many “repeat customers” at the event, which is free to the public.
“I would hate to think that parents would have to tell their kids they couldn’t afford to come to Chalkfest,” Maday said. “But we do raise funds for the event throughout the year.”
Both Maday and Albert credited volunteers from local colleges and other organizations for making the effort possible.
Brenda Johnson, of Plains Township, brought her two foster children and her son, Sean, out to the event for the opportunity for both fun and learning.
When asked what his favorite activity was, Sean said he was looking forward to fishing.
Erica Barrera, also of Plains Township, and her three children were enjoying a presentation on ecology at the event.
Barrera said all three had enjoyed drawing with chalk, including her youngest, 2-year-old Bethany.
“I’m glad the weather held out,” she said. “It’s a nice day.”
Stephanie Boback, of Nanticoke, who also does chalk drawing for the F.M. Kirby Center, carefully crafted a drawing of a blue heron in shallow water.
“We saw one today, right over there,” said Boback, pointing at the river.
Boback said she was impressed with the wonderful response from the community to the event and hopes to participate again next year.
Megan Sgarlat Prynn and other volunteers from the Penn State Cooperative Extension were on hand to provide information about the importance of preserving water.
Prynn said she and other volunteers had participated in a training over 12 weeks, so that they could educate the public about preservation of the water table.
One form of doing this, she said, was rain gardens, which preserve clean rainwater, create habitat and prevent local flooding and water pollution.
To Maday, the event symbolizes resilience of area residents and the benefits and challenges of living near the river.
He looks back to 2011 when flooding put the entire area under water but the festival was still held.
“We rescheduled it a few times that year,” he said. “It was a time of hope.”
Chalkfest, he said, builds community.
“Everyone is assigned a square,” he said. “And so the kids are busy creating art when suddenly families begin talking to each other.”
It happens that way, he said, every year.