As the school year ends, children celebrate summer break, and that calls for smiles and ice cream.
On Saturday, the Alachua Conservation Trust hosted its annual “Ice Cream at the Park” event at Rockwood Park. The non-profit wanted to give back to the community for supporting its mission of supporting wildlife and recreational parks in north central Florida.
“Personally, I grew up here,” said Ema Olmos, the conservation event director for ACT. Olmos said. “It’s just a place that you can tell people really care, and a place that really supports the work that we’re doing.”
Before people gathered around for a cooling treat to brighten their day, getting gallons of ice cream was no easy feat.
Olmos said she was excited for families to gather at the park for some ice cream. Her team brought out two coolers filled with ice, inside having flavors like vanilla, chocolate, cookie dough, rainbow dream sherbet and more.
“I looked a little crazy having a shopping cart full of ice cream,” Olmos chuckled. “I quickly tried to get out the door before it melted.”
Bill Lovett and Goldie Schwartz, both 75, went up to the table not for a regular scoop of ice cream, but to make something of nostalgia.
“It’s something I had years ago,” Schwartz said, recalling times of making root beer and vanilla ice cream as a float.
Lovett remembered when movie drive-ins would serve root beer floats with burgers and other savory foods. But it was always the floats that were the fan favorite.
“We put ice cream and some Dr. Pepper on a float,” Lovett said. “You can use any flavor, but vanilla is usually the best. You don’t want too many other flavors mixed in.”
With families arriving to grab ice cream and children playing in the park, Aasiyah Johnson, 38, a cosmetologist, was eager to bring her children to Rockwood Park for the ACT event.
The Johnson kids liked how there was a variety of ice cream flavors to choose from. Since she was 4 years old, Zaynab has had a passion for baking treats, specifically cupcakes.
“I would try to make a cupcake ice cream,” Zaynab, now age 9, said as she took another bite of her mango peach passion sherbet with sprinkles on top. “Kind of like a cake pop.”
“I’ll add all the ice creams,” Atiyah, 8, said, sitting center with her family in a sparkly rainbow skirt. “And then I’ll taste it!”
“Chocolate is my favorite,” Aasiyah Johnson said. “I like that they have non-dairy ice cream as an option to choose from.”
But 4-year-old Musa will simply stick to mint chocolate chip ice cream, which was also the first flavor to run out that day.
“I like decorating,” Musa said as his mother smiled down at him. “I’m a baker, too!”
As children gobble and slurp melted ice cream, parents, unfortunately, anticipated the worst— melted ice cream staining their kids’ shirts. Chocolate was the popular pick of difficulty in getting it removed.
Chun Wong, 39, was not surprised, especially raising his two sons whom he brought out to the park got him experience.
“It’s kind of dark,” said Wong, an assistant professor of insect-microbe interactions at the University of Florida. “We soak the clothes in soapy water overnight before doing the laundry, which usually helps.”
Despite having to eventually clean stained clothes, Wong and his children would eat ice cream once a week, with mango green tea being his favorite flavor.
Wong was accompanied by nanny Eileen Tracy, who has been with the Wong family since December 2022. She remembers growing up visiting the Kountry Candy Store in Alford, Florida, with her father to grab some homemade ice cream and other sweet treats. She valued the family gatherings and holds onto those memories.
“I did some volunteering at a nursing home,” Tracy said. “We would come to the elderly and have an ice cream social. They get interaction and also taste all kinds of ice cream!”
After neighbors socialized and ate, families started to drive back home with tired children holding their melted ice cream cones.
Ema Olmos said she hoped that with the children surrounded by nature, they could not only enjoy ice cream but also appreciate the environment and learn to protect it.
“I think it really speaks to the importance of the outdoors,” Olmos said. “They get to cultivate experiences, play around and also have ice cream. I’m excited to eat some.”