PORT ANGELES — It was easy to mistake Peninsula College on Saturday for a family fun day rather than a campus of higher education.
Children swarmed the giant inflatable slide, bounce house and soccer darts. They stood in line with their parents at Welly’s Ice Cream booth. There was face painting, a hot air balloon and Katy Perry on the PA system.
The upbeat atmosphere was just what the college’s first Fall Spectacular was supposed to be, said president Suzanne Ames.
“We wanted a real festival feel so that everyone felt they were welcome here,” said Ames, who arrived as the college’s seventh president in July.
“In making it a fun event for kids, we’re hoping that parents will see what a beautiful campus this is and that we’ll appear more accessible to them when it comes to college.”
The event did not overlook those who had outgrown inflatable obstacle courses, however.
Peninsula College instructors gave short presentations on topics like the Cascadia earthquake that occurred more than 300 years ago and on improvisational theater; they offered hands-on demonstrations in welding, anatomy and physiology, and clay throwing; and they gave tours of the health sciences labs.
“We wanted to infuse some educational opportunities into it so that the community could recognize the educational opportunities that are available to them,” Ames said.
Among the hands-on activities were Cherokee artist Karen Sixkiller’s five beading workshops in the ʔaʔk̓ʷustəƞáwt̓xʷ House of Learning Longhouse in which participants used a loom made out of cardboard and strung with black thread to create a bracelet.
“The first row is the hardest; it will take perseverance,” Sixkiller said. “The second row is easier and the third row is super fast and easier.”
Darcy Vanwinkle of Port Angeles and her 6-year-old daughter, Harper, found Sixkiller was not exaggerating. They worked together to string bright plastic beads on their loom, while Justin Vanwinkle, Darcy’s husband and Harper’s father, watched.
“I look for anything we can do as a family together,” Darcy Vanwinkle said. “There’s not a lot in this area and this is a great idea. I hope they do it again next year.”
It was the event’s free hot air balloon rides that sold Port Angeles High School senior and Running Start student Kai Snook and her mother, Lee Snook, on the idea of attending the Fall Spectacular.
Neither had ever ridden in one before.
“It was a little scary at first when you realized your feet weren’t on the ground, but I’d definitely do it again,” Kai Snook said after the short ride in the tethered Dream Catcher balloon set up on the college’s soccer field.
“It was a light, lofty kind of feeling,” Lee Snook said.
The Snooks turned out to be among the lucky ones: reservations for the balloon ride were all gone before noon.
Still available, however, were s’mores assembled by the Dream Catcher crew, who toasted the marshmallows on a hot air balloon burner.
Ames said the college organizing team would meet Sunday to discuss what went well at the inaugural event and what areas needed improvement so they could start putting ideas together for next year.