By Colleen S. Good
Times West Virginian
The Celebration of Lights kicks off another year of holiday festivities Friday.
The celebration, in its fifth year, has grown significantly since South Fairmont Rotary started work on the annual service project.
“It has become a very large project, and our Rotary Club members support us and help us,” Butch Phillips, one of the main organizers of the project, said.
The first year the Rotary Club organized the celebration, there were only 60 displays. This year, it has grown to 125 displays, with 28 new this year.
“There are so many, it’s hard to remember them all,” Phillips said. “People just need to come out and see them.”
New displays include a Rotary wheel and a 12-foot Christmas tree, dedicated in memory of Rotary member John Griggs. Other new displays include a water-skiing Santa, a fire engine and the largest of the new displays, a Ferris wheel.
“All the lights are LED lights,” Phillips said. “It’s the only thing we’ll put in the park because they require very low voltage, and that way we can extend hundreds of feet into unlighted areas with heavy-duty extension cords.”
Last year, they saw 6,300 visitors throughout the month and raised $15,000. This year, they hope to raise even more.
“We’ve been very successful in the past. We went from $6,000 to $10,000 to $12,000 to $15,000,” Phillips said. “There’s no way we can predict, because we’re so dependent on the weather, but we’d love to hit $20,000 this year.”
In addition to the five weekends where visitors can drive through the light displays, this year, for the first time, visitors will be able to walk through the displays on Monday, Dec. 23.
“Walkers will be invited to attend and tour the 1.3 miles of displays,” Phillips said. “We’ve had people request to do that, but we haven’t been able to in the past. So we decided this year that one special night, the Monday before Christmas, we’ll close the park, and people can come up with their flashlights and their dogs, too, if they want.”
Another new addition this year is the newly built and decorated gingerbread house ticket booth, which was made this summer.
“We’re going to have a donations slot in our gingerbread house ticket booth, so we welcome cash donations in addition to the $5 fee they pay to enter the park,” Phillips said.
If anyone wants to donate money to create a new light display for next year, they can call Phillips at 304-282-0808 or co-chairman Bob Hunt at 304-612-4818.
All displays have a marker noting the individual or organization that donated to make the display.
Phillips said he and Hunt have spent hundreds of hours preparing for the Celebration of Lights this year.
“I have an excellent co-chairman with Bob Hunt, and he and I have worked nearly the whole year selling sponsorships, ordering displays, and testing and setting them up,” Phillips said.
They started building and setting up the displays Nov. 1, with Hunt in charge of installation.
Visitors can see the lights at Morris Park in Fairmont from 5-9 p.m. every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from Nov. 29 to Dec. 29. Tickets are $5 per vehicle, and proceeds will benefit the United Way of Marion County.
Visitors can find Morris Park by taking Interstate 79 to Pleasant Valley Road. Signs will be set up to help direct traffic.
Email Colleen S. Good at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @CSGoodTWV.