PHOTO/FRANK X. MULLEN: Chole Peterson, 9, pets a gobbler at the annual Turkey Day event Nov. 13 at Rancho San Rafael Park in Reno. Her mom, Alissa, right, takes a photo.

Chloe Peterson, 9, was thrilled to have a close encounter with a live turkey, but remains pragmatic about their role in the coming holiday.

“Today we pet them,” Chloe said. “On Thanksgiving we eat them.”

Her friend, Aniston Dang, 7, offered a clarification: “Those are different turkeys, though.”

Both girls had close encounters with the iconic birds and other farm animals at Washoe County’s annual Turkey Day at Rancho San Rafael Park on Nov. 13. The 14-year-old event, which returned this year after going dark in 2020 due to the pandemic, features holiday-themed activities for children, a hands-on display of antique tractors, storytelling sessions and a petting zoo.

About 200 parents and children were there this year, about a third of the attendance recorded in pre-pandemic times.  

. PHOTO/FRANK X. MULLEN: Aniston Dang, 7, on left, and Chloe Peterson, 9, right, make bird feeders by spreading peanut butter on pinecones and rolling them in bird seed. The activity was organized by volunteers from the May Arboretum Society.

RIP, turkey king

“Usually, there are longer lines at the turkey pens,” said Bob Holland, a Washoe County Parks ranger. “But it’s still a good crowd. Some families have been coming every year and some who came when they were little are adults now.”

 Absent from this year’s event was King, a tom turkey who was hatched at the park eight years ago and presided over Turkey Day for seven years. He knew he was a star, Holland said. “King was here year-round and he was a local celebrity,” he said. “People would come here to see him and he’d puff up and gobble and strut. He was a show-stopper.”

King’s companion, Cranberry, 8, survives and other turkeys were brought in for the event. Chickens, ducks, a black sheep and goats were supplied by Valley Amigos, a family and educational farm in Sun Valley, which also has supplied animals for other park events and the Reno Rodeo parade.

VIDEO/LENITA POWERS: King, the tom turkey who ruled the roost at Rancho San Rafael Park and presided over Washoe County Park’s annual Turkey Day for seven years, recently died of natural causes. When visitors approached, King would show off his plumage, as in this video from 2019.

Veronica Cortes, owner of Valley Amigos, said three generations of her family were helping out at Turkey Day.  The event, she said, allows city kids to interact with farm animals as she did when she was a child. As visitors stopped at the pens in the park’s barn, Cortez answered questions and provided information about the various animals.

“Being able to meet the animals gets us back to our roots,” Cortes said. “The kids are able to do something that I did myself when I was a child.”

Carrie Henderson, 5, gently pet one of two domestic bronze turkeys perched on a hay bale. The bird was about her size. “It’s big as a dinosaur,” she said. Her dad, Phil, told her that birds used to be dinosaurs. She looked at him as though he had suddenly grown another nose.

“I don’t think so,” Carrie said.

A nervous bird

On a nearby lawn, Linnae Rush, a library assistant at the North Valleys Library, read to children from Thanksgiving-themed picture books. In one of the stories, entitled “Turkey Trouble,” a farm turkey realizes that Thanksgiving is approaching and disguises itself as various other farm animals in order to escape being the main course.

Sandy Montoya, 6, said the story was “kind of silly,” because a bird couldn’t be confused with a horse or a cow no matter how good its disguise. She understood why a turkey might be nervous in November, but explained that the bird would be safe at her house.

“We’re vegetarians,” Sandy said. “Except for my brother (Michael, 12)… He likes hamburgers, but they aren’t made of turkey.”

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