FORT RILEY, Kan. -- A military spouse attending Fort Riley's Fall Apple Day Festival Sept. 24 at Artillery Parade Field for her second year in a row said the annual festival was a great Family activity.

"We loved the (Fall) Apple Day Festival. It's a good thing you can do together as a Family," said Shannon Rylander, who attended with her husband, a Soldier with the 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division; and their two daughters. "My kids really liked the obstacle course. They loved that. And I thought that the old medical exhibit in the historic part was really interesting."

Rylander, who attended last year with only her daughters because her husband was visiting Family after returning from a deployment, said she was happy to have the whole Family together.

"We had a lot of fun," she said. "It's one of the better activities Fort Riley has to offer."

The military spouse said she thought the festival was bigger and better this year.

"I thought the layout was a little better this year -- more room for military vehicles and displays," Rylander said. "And it seems the lines weren't as long because of the way things were laid out this year, so the kids got to do a lot more."

Perhaps the highlight of Rylander's day, she said, was winning a new laptop computer as part of the Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation-sponsored Treasure Hunt, where participants searched for bear paws across the festival area. The top 10 finishers were then invited on stage, given a key and given the opportunity to use the key to unlock a treasure chest containing the laptop.

"The treasure hunt itself was really fun. Me, my husband and our two girls did the main part in the Family area together and then split up and looked at the other parts, before we got together and met back up," Rylander said.

Although the hunt was fun, Rylander said she was most excited about the prize.

"My computer died on me earlier this year, so I didn't have a computer," said Rylander, a stay-at-home mom, who will soon begin an online medical assistant program through Allied Business Schools. "I was going to use the computers at (Army Community Service) to try to take my classes. But since I won the laptop, I can do it at home. I really needed it."

Rylander and her Family were just a few of the more than 8,000 estimated attendees, according to Clay Nauman, chief of operations, Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security.

"The purpose of (Fall) Apple Day (Festival) is to have a regional event so that we can bring in all the people from the surrounding communities and have them intermingle with the Soldiers of the installations to build on our regional partnership," Nauman said.

Nauman said a lot of coordination goes into planning the festival. Led by DPTMS, five working group meetings took place to organize more than 37 different organizations participating in the event. This represented "a lot of time and effort," he said, which began in June.

Under the direction of DPTMS, organizations that came together to plan the annual event included the DFMWR, which operated the "Family" section of the festival; Irwin Army Community Hospital, which sponsored the Community Health Experience; the Historical and Archaeological Society of Fort Riley, which sold apple pies; period re-enactors from across the Midwest, who set up historical displays; Family readiness groups, who manned the food tent; and units and Soldiers, who manned several activities, including static displays and the paintball and the obstacle courses.

"The (Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System) Range by far is the biggest draw for all the kids, and the paintball range has really made strides. It's a new event over the past two years," Nauman said, adding that the addition of a rock climbing wall in the Family section was a new event in 2011.

The festival has grown considerably since it began in its current form in 2000, Nauman said. Prior to 2000, a fall festival open house and Apple Day were two separate events, which have now merged to become the Fall Apple Day Festival.

Additional activities included a petting zoo, fire and safety displays, musical performances, Commanding General's Mounted Color Guard demonstrations and military working dog demonstrations.

And, as for Rylander's husband, who attended his first Fall Apple Day Festival, the food was the highlight.

"My husband really enjoyed the beer tacos," Rylander said of one of the food items sold by a Family readiness group.

The Family plans to return to Fall Apple Day Festival as long as they are here at Fort Riley, she said.