By Louisa Benatovoich, ECS Student Reporter

For many Ellicottville students, the pinnacle of summer vacation is not the late mornings or lack of homework, but the Town of Ellicottville’s Park Program. This local outdoor event, free for all attendees, begins the first week of July and boasts a packed schedule until mid-August. Operational five days a week from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., the Park Program is beneficial for working parents and energetic children alike. The Program’s devoted counselors, handpicked by program director Tracy Stokes, do their utmost to ensure a safe and fun environment for all who choose to attend.

This summer, along with bi-weekly visits to the Holiday Valley Pool, the Park Program will facilitate excursions to Griffis Sculpture Park, Allegany State Park, and the Buffalo Zoo. Alongside these adventures, scavenger hunts, games of World Cup, capture-the-flag extravaganzas, Ellicottville Memorial Library crafting days, and lunches catered by Katy’s Fly-in are offered.

Mitchell Sexton, third-year counselor and Ellicottville Class of 2018, notes that the Holiday Valley Pool has been a hit for kids no matter the year. “Pool days are when most kids show up and when they seem to have the most fun,” he says. On any given day, the Park Program can accommodate anywhere from 20 to 50 kids.

The Park Program isn’t all fun and games, however. “The most challenging part of working at the park,” says Tarah Scharf, third-year counselor and Ellicottville Class of 2017, “is the weather, and not being able to really predict what’s going to happen. If it does rain, we only have the pavilion so it can be tough.” The pavilion is merely a roof over the picnic tables that the park uses for crafts, card games of Spoons, and lunch. With no walls, the Park Program attendees have no protection from the elements.

Mason Perks, rising 6th grader and three-year Park Program attendee, is unfazed. The Park Program is one of his favorite aspects of summer. “I love seeing old friends, new friends, and old friends again,” says Perks.

William Benatovich, sitting next to Perks, agrees. “Park Program is where I made my first friends when I moved to Ellicottville.”

The Park Program caters to all interests and ages. On a sunny day at the park, you might see a 1st-grader playing tennis with his friends, a 3rd-grader spinning solo on the tire-swing, or a 7th-grader painstakingly placing Melty Beads on a flower-shaped mold. No matter the child, the Park Program creates a safe and social environment into which parents entrust their kids. “The most rewarding part of working at the Park Program,” says Noah Stuve, second-year counselor and Ellicottville Class of 2018, “is having an impact on children’s lives.” As students age out of the program, like Stuve, they often apply to work there themselves. After seeing the program in action, it is clear that Ellicottville’s Park Program is not only a key component to an amazing summer but a rite of passage.