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story.lead_photo.caption Missouri River Regional Library had several activities at KidsFest Saturday at Ellis-Porter Riverside Park. (Ken Barnes/News Tribune)

Bubbles!

OK, maybe I don't have the same obsession with bubbles as the yellow tang from "Finding Nemo," but I have to admit, those bubbles at 2021 KidsFest and Bass Pro Shops Outdoor Days were a lot of fun to watch.

They were even more fun to play in judging by the grins on the faces of young children jumping, hopping, running and bouncing through waves of them.

Hundreds upon hundreds of people (mostly children) descended upon Ellis-Porter Riverside Park late Saturday morning to bask in the sun and cavort on the grass. Cars filled the park's lots, and families began parking alongside neighboring streets. By 11 a.m., cars were parked alongside Riverside Drive as far west as Hough Street. And still, families kept coming.

Participants in the day's activities enjoyed games, demonstrations and activities, and received free gifts from vendors.

As the new arrivals walked in from the west, they were greeted with bubbles, created by staff from the Bubble Bus, a St. Louis-based bubble-machine company.

With its bright graphics, you can't really miss the bus, said bus staff members Shiyan Nejat and Kyle Clore.

"You haven't seen the best part yet," Nejat said. "The wands. The kids love the wands."

As he spoke, Clore gathered up two wands that were connected by a long loop of rope. He then picked up a bucket of bubble fluid and walked over near where a crowd of children was busy popping bubbles the bus's three bubble machines were churning out.

Clore dipped the rope into the solution and swung it high, creating a massive bubble, that drifted over toward Sadie Locker, a tall 7-year-old, and engulfed her before it popped.

She giggled and waited for another.

"It's really cool," Sadie said.

Activities along the west side of the park slowed people down as they walked. Children lined up for pony rides and face painting.

They waited patiently to take turns shooting rubber suction cup-tipped arrows at targets in the Bass Pro Shops area. They also waited in line to take turns in BPS's massive bass-inspired bounce houses and "casting inflatables," which allowed children to take turns trying to cast a lure into inflatable fishes' mouths.

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The retailer "just loves Jeff City," said Jessica Hayes, BPS manager of conservation and community relations. BPS has partnered with the Jefferson City Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department and with the Governor's Office for many years through its Governor's Capitol Camp-out (in conjunction with KidsFest), she said.

"This year, unfortunately, we had to postpone (the camp-out) until 2022, so we decided to come out with Parks and bring some activities to the area," Hayes said. "This area has always been one of our favorites."

In an unexpected activity, KidsFest participants watched as an MU Health Care Staff for Life Helicopter tried to land nearby before organizers found a flatter location.

The helicopter swept in and hovered low over the ground, overturning archery targets and signs. Volunteers from Freshwater Church had just finished filling a pavilion with helium-filled Mylar balloons. The wind from the helicopter blades flipped the sides of the pavilion up, releasing the balloons into the wild.

And participants continued to arrive.

Anticipation for the event was through the roof, according to Phil Stiles, special events program manager with JC Parks, especially after a couple of years of cancellations.

"Luckily, we've been able to do it this year," Stiles said. "It's a new venue and people are excited to check out the new amphitheater and enjoy a day out in the park."

He pointed out about 60 vendors arrived early Saturday morning to serve participants. And, he added organizers were excited for onstage performances scheduled throughout the day.

Itsy Bitsy Broadway, kicked off performances with a medley of songs from its performance of "The Jungle Book." Songs included "Somewhere in the Jungle," "W-O-L-V-E-S," "Snake Eyes" and others.

Viewers also watched other performances, demonstrations and magic.

Xander Tester, 11, his little sister Andi, 8, and little brother Atlas, 6, all hit bullseyes while shooting arrows.

"It really helps me focus on what I'm going to do and what I'm doing," Xander said.

"I really did a good job," Andi said, "because I don't always focus on the arrow. I just focus on where it's supposed to be."

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