Hundreds of brightly colored little egg hunters took over the softball field Saturday at Santa Rosa's Howarth Park, gleefully running over the outfield grass in search of candy-filled, plastic Easter Eggs.

Santa Rosa's Recreation & Parks Department's annual hunt drew some 400 children 5 and under and their families on a bright and sunny morning. Many of the youngsters wore outfits befitting the Easter holiday. There were pastel-colored frilly dresses, blue sailor suits and even pink tutus, plus tiny suits, straw hats and bonnets and many happy young faces, thrilled with their straw baskets or plastic buckets of eggs and candy, or with just meeting the Easter bunny.

"We thought this would a great thing for the kids," said Heather Nemeth of Santa Rosa, who came with her husband, Matt, and their two children, Elisabeth, 3, and Michael, 2. "It's been a great day, totally worth it."

Both Michael and Elisabeth shared their baskets full of candy.

"I really liked meeting the Easter bunny," said Elisabeth, a sentiment her brother shared with a grin that was accented by the sticky sweets he had just eaten.

The egg hunt was organized into three rounds — the first two for children 3 and under and the last one for kids aged 4-5. Volunteers spread plastic eggs throughout the outfield grass and the kids lined up, waiting for the "go" sign. When it was announced, they raced onto the field, many with screams of joy.

Some, like 10-month-old Kingston Butler-Smith, crawled. His grandmother DeeDee Butler-Rickards and mother Jaylene Butler-Smith, both of Santa Rosa, brought him to the event for his first Easter.

"We're taking him to the train later. We thought we'd make a whole day of it," said Butler-Rickards.

Many of the parents said they remembered egg hunts from their childhood and wanted to share the experience with their children.

"I wanted to find an Easter egg hunt here in Sonoma County," said Tonya Paz of Santa Rosa, who brought Gabby, 2, and 5-year-old Alex. "It's a great experience to share with them."

The event was a sell-out, with a higher turnout than last year's, said Mara Leon, a recreation specialist with the city and the event's organizer. Along with the egg hunt, there were several booths where kids could pose for a photo with the Easter bunny, participate in crafts and pet live animals.

Tickets were sold in advance for $6 each with proceeds going to the Santa Rosa's Recreation & Parks Scholarship Fund. The fund allows families in need to attend city-sponsored programming like summer camps and swimming lessons.

"It turned out great," she said. "It got a little hectic, but in the end everything worked out."

More than one child left with a grin and an Easter memory.

"My daughter just loves being around little kids, so this was just perfect for her," said Noelle Johnson, who was there with 2-year-old Sadie. Like many of the kids there, Sadie participated in her first-ever egg hunt. "She just had a great time running around out there."

(You can reach Staff Writer Elizabeth M. Cosin at 521-5276 or