Twenty-three new displays — some of them the largest ever erected along the wintertime shores of Blue Spruce Lake — will highlight the 22nd annual Festival of Lights, opening Thanksgiving evening at Blue Spruce Park, near Ernest.
For many visitors this season, a drive through the 80-plus lighted displays will probably become a sing-along event: The theme is “The 12 Days of Christmas.”
[PHOTO: Workers put up the last of a large display recently at the Festival of Lights at Blue Spruce Park, near Ernest.On the ladder is Luke Karp. (Tom Peel/Gazette photo)]
Again this year, many of the festival’s displays have a mechanical or computerized control box to switch power back and forth between multiple circuits, giving the illusion of movement. Drive-through visitors will first encounter an animated partridge in a pear tree. Other “moving” displays around the 12-acre lake have maids milking, pipers piping and drummers drumming, and there is a scooter-riding elf and a snowboarding Santa.
When the festival premiered in 1992, there were only three lighted displays. Some were crafted by students at area schools and some were powered by portable generators. Since then, more than a quarter-million visitors have driven through the lighted displays and annual attendance has been averaging 15,000.
Ed Patterson, director of Indiana County Parks & Trails, said crews began in October setting up the displays. Some are so large they required several men working from ladders to put them together. The set-up crews also checked the thousands of bulbs, tightened guy wires to anchor the displays in wintry gales and connected the displays with five miles of electrical extension cords — enough to stretch from Ernest to Indiana.
This year’s lights spectacle will be open to the public 29 evenings between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.
The festival will welcome visitors from Nov. 28 to Dec. 1; from Dec. 5 through Dec. 8; and from Dec. 12 to Jan. 1. The display will be open each of those days from 5:30 to 10 p.m.
A gift shop at the Lakeside Center will be open each evening from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. but will close for the season on Dec. 23. Santa Claus will be at the gift shop from 6 to 8 p.m. on Nov. 30 and on Dec. 1, 7, 8, 14, 15, 21 and 22.
The admission price again this season is $8 per carload or $1 per person for vans exceeding 12 passengers. Coupons in Indiana Gazette ads for the festival and on the county parks’ website (www.indianacountyparks.org) will save visitors $1 per vehicle.
As an alternative to driving through the display, several hundred people this year again plan to run through the lights.
The “It’s a Wonderful 5K” will start at 5 p.m. on Dec. 7, and the route will lead runners through the displays and around the lake as night falls.
Matthew Gaudet, one of the race organizers, said about 230 runners participated in the 5K during the festival last year, and 400 runners have already registered for this season’s event. Registration will be capped at 500 participants.
Runners may register online at www.Race360.com\20119 or by stopping in at The Gingerbread Man Running Company, 714 Philadelphia St., Indiana. There will be no registration on race day.
The registration fee is $25. Age group prizes will be awarded and some of the race proceeds will benefit Indiana County Parks & Trails.