As children sprinted between an inflatable bounce house and a petting zoo, their parents sipped German beers and chatted with neighbors and friends at New Haven’s East Rock Park on Saturday afternoon.
It was the second annual Oktoberfest, an event that drew more than 100 locals to the park. Hosted by the group Friends of East Rock Park, Oktoberfest was meant to bring the community together and raise awareness about the importance of maintaining the park and the surrounding area, said Justin Elicker FES ’10, co-director of Friends of East Rock Park.
Oktoberfest is the biggest of four community gatherings hosted each year by Friends of East Rock Park, a community and environmental advocacy group that builds connections by hosting social events and project work days, according to the organization’s Web site. Recently, the group mobilized local residents to repaint the playground equipment at the View Street Playground, Elicker said, adding that other community building activities include neighborhood barbecues and Winterfest, the seasonal analogue of Oktoberfest.
“When you work together, a bond is created,” Elicker said. “We want people to feel invested in the park and in each other.”
In almost all respects, Oktoberfest resembled a small town community picnic — families played together, the drinking was moderate and the question on the minds of attendees was, “Which chili is best?” The focus was on social awareness rather than intoxication, and there were more strollers than lederhosen. Neither kegs of beer nor trays of sauerkraut were anywhere in sight.
Attendees made sure not to litter and everyone recycled their beer bottles as strollers were hurriedly pushed off the lawn before the contra dancing got underway at 6 p.m. After all, Friends of East Rock Park is all about preserving the landmark’s natural beauty, said New Haven resident Natalie Shonka, who attended the event.
Elicker explained each aspect of Oktoberfest was meant to target a different segment of the New Haven population: the beer to bring in Yale students, the contra dancing to create a sense of community and the pot-luck chilli contest to foster friendly competition.
“Kids love the animals — and the bounce house. You can’t go wrong with a bounce house,” Elicker said, laughing. “If you have one, there’s a guaranteed critical mass at the party.”
Also at the event were professional petting zoo operators Kathleen Schurman and Sarah Murray from the Lockets Meadow Farm in Bethany, Conn., who brought with them a sheep, a goat and an alpaca for the children to pet.
Once the dancing began and the evening kicked in to full gear, local contra dance caller Bill Fischer led the lively group in round after round of spirited dance that continued until after dark.