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OLMSTED FETE GIVES FAMILIES AN EMBRACE

Summer may be over, but Buffalo's long parade of festivals marched on Sunday with a new entry.

But unlike some of the other traffic-snarling -- albeit it fun for many -- fairs the city offers all summer long, the first annual Olmsted Fallfest was tucked out of harm's way inside one of the city's premier parklands.

Against a backdrop of soothing greenery and late-blooming flower beds, this newcomer at South Park offered a slew of family-friendly activities that were set up around the ring road of South Park Lake and the Erie County Botanical Gardens.

"This is designed to be more family- and more kid-oriented than some other festivals held around the city," said Assemblyman Brian Higgins, one of the event organizers.

"There are no vendors here. People aren't hawking wares. Instead, it's aimed at getting people to come to the park with their kids and enjoy this resource that is unique to our area here in South Buffalo," Higgins added.

Aside from its corporate sponsors, Sorrento Cheese and Verizon Communications, the festival had a decidely non-commercial atmosphere. Even better, it didn't require anybody who attended to dig deep into their pockets to produce the means for a good time.

Nearly everything was free, aside from the $5 chicken and rib dinners.

There were pony rides for the youngsters, as well as hayrides, face-painting and inflatable rides. Both young and old enjoyed the Irish and Latin bands that filled the park with music. And there was no charge for gazing at the still-lush flower beds bursting with color at the Botanical Gardens. All of this was amid what South Council Member Mary Martino called "the most pristine" of all the city's Frederick Law Olmsted parks.

"This (park) is the one that remains the closest to his original design," Martino said.

And like its five Olmsted counterparts in the city, South Park is targeted for improvements, including replanting pine trees, redeveloping the four-acre bog gardens north of the Botanical Gardens and dredging the lake.

"I don't think (the public) fully realizes the gem they have here," said Martino. "I think we have an obligation to let them know, so they can come out and appreciate it."

Annette White of South Buffalo certainly knows a gem when she sees one. She brought her daughter, Andrea, 5, who enjoyed romping in one the free inflatable rides Sunday .

"We don't have much of a backyard, so we come down here because it's close," said White. "As far as public awareness (about South Park), this (festival) is a good start, because it's not just about food, but activities for the kids."

Bob Cooper of West Seneca, watching as his 2 1/2 -year-old daughter, Hope, rode a pony, agreed.

"This is nice that they actually decided to use this park for something besides golf and the Botanical Gardens," said Cooper.

Susan Gonzalez, executive director of the Police Athletic League and one of the organizers of Fallfest, said the festival is actually patterned after Olmsted Winterfest in Delaware Park.

"Fallfest is a little easier to organize than Winterfest right now. We hope (Fallfest) grows to the same size as Winterfest, which attracts about 150,000 people over four days in the dead of winter. Today (Sunday) we're hoping for a few thousand people. That would please us for a first-time event," said Gonzalez, whose expectations seemed on target Sunday.

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