Did you pack up your Christmas lights shortly after New Year’s? So did Jackson County. It took nearly a month for the county to complete that task—no small job given the 300,000-plus colored lights and 175 animated displays featured in Christmas In The Park.
The Yuletide attraction reached a milestone in 2014. The 27th annual Christmas In The Park inside the Longview Lake Park campgrounds pushed the total amount collected for local charities over the years past the $1 million mark.
Volunteer cash donations are collected from people as their vehicles exit Christmas In The Park. Each evening the attraction is open—the night before Thanksgiving through New Year’s Eve—a different charity benefits from the donations made that night. All told, almost 1,000 different groups have benefited from Christmas In The Park since 1987.
“We have eclipsed the $1 million mark in donations to local charities due to the generosity of the community,” said County Executive Mike Sanders. “The display is Jackson County’s gift to the community, and the patrons, in turn, make a significant gift to worthy local charities. We look forward to continuing this tradition for years to come.”
The planning for Christmas In The Park 2015 is already underway.
Jackson County Parks + Rec Director Michele Newman and her staff started the planning process the first week of January. They took a slow drive through the still-lit 2014 displays, after they were closed to the public but before the arduous dismantling work began.
“We usually start planning with a meeting each February, but this year we decided to drive through as a group while it was still up and brainstorm on-site,” Newman said. “We came up with some great ideas. People can look forward to exciting new displays in 2015!”
Newman said that between Nov. 26 and Dec. 31, about 49,500 vehicles passed through the attraction in 2014. Given that many buses and vans were included in the total vehicle count, the department estimated four people in each vehicle, which gave rise to a total attendance figure of 200,000.
The goal each year, Newman stressed, is to go bigger and better.
“All the ideas and construction and maintenance are done in-house,” Newman said. “It’s a real credit to the team at Jackson County Parks + Rec. I think it’s one of the best things we do.”
What goes up must go down. Longview Lake Park Foreman Mark Hite and his crew began dismantling the 2014 lighting displays on Jan. 6. Mild weather made the job easier than in years past. During a harsh winter, some display parts, stuck in the frozen ground, can’t be removed until the spring thaw. That wasn’t a problem this year.
“It usually takes a month, but that’s if we have to stop and go do snow removal,” he said.
Christmas In The Park 2015 will be lit during the annual Christmas In The Sky celebration Wednesday, Nov. 25. In the meantime, Parks + Rec staff will repair any broken components and work on new pieces for new displays.
Assembling those displays on-site—so all are ready for opening night—will begin soon after the campgrounds close in the fall. For Jackson County, Christmas In The Park is always right around the corner.