A steady stream of cars funnel through Simpson Park just about any given evening, meandering along the route of captivating and awe-inspiring lights and holiday displays.
A steady stream of cars funnel through Simpson Park just about any given evening, meandering along the route of captivating and awe-inspiring lights and holiday displays. This is the 13th year for the Festival of Lights in Chillicothe’s Simpson Park. View Photo Gallery The volunteer-driven and donation-based attraction has grown tremendously through the years and now includes 65 lighted displays and dozens of lighted trees. People travel from throughout the area to view the Festival of Lights. Some leave notes of appreciation to those who make the festival possible, and donations. Whether coming from near or far, visitors enjoy the holiday display. “Seeing the bright, beautiful lights against the dark night fills us with delight and joy,” said Barb Burton, who has coordinated the Festival of Lights since 2009. “It lifts our spirits.” As the event has expanded, so has the need for power supply and community support, said Burton, who first volunteered with the Festival in 2008. “The community and various businesses in Chillicothe have donated time, manpower, supplies and various resources to make it happen,” Burton stated. Power has been added (at no charge to the city of Chillicothe) to the center circle, Armory Hill and the area south of Chilli Bay Water Park so that more areas of the park can be decorated, she said. The number of volunteers continues to grow each year, and financial support has increased to help meet maintenance needs and allow the festival to expand. Donations come from individuals, businesses, memorial contributions, and foundations. Some of the lighted displays are original to the Festival of Lights. The early displays were made from rope lights, including those in the children’s area and the rope light nativity. However, all of the rope lights in the early displays have been replaced by the festival’s dedicated crew members who repair lights each year. Many volunteers give hours, days and weeks of their time preparing for the opening of the Festival of Lights. “Taking into consideration the number of volunteers and the number of hours it takes to put the lights and displays up every year, we average between 3,500 and 4,000 man hours,” Burton said. The lighted tunnel – a popular spot for taking photographs of family and friends – is one of the most difficult displays to set up, Burton said. Lighting the rocket slide also involves extra time. There is also a special group, also, to thank who work on repairing lights in the “off season.” While the public may have perennial display favorites, new displays are added each year to create opportunities for new favorites to develop. One of the first popular displays was a large spruce tree that was decorated as a traditional Christmas tree. That tree, however, was dying and was cut down this past fall. A new Norway spruce was planted near the site of the previous tree and now is decorated in similar fashion. It is intended to remain a developing showpiece of the Festival of Lights for years to come. The “Twinkle Tree” is mentioned frequently as a favorite, along with the lighted tunnel, nativity, rocket, penguins and dragon. Burton stated that the Festival of Lights Committee has several new displays in mind for next year, if enough funding comes in. “It all depends on donations,” she said. To help generate donations, students at Grand River Technical School made a donation box, shaped like a Christmas tree. The donation box is located near the lighted tunnel and is one of two donation boxes for the Festival of Lights. The students have also contributed to the decorations, having built the holly archway at the Walnut Street entrance and the American flag frame located near the park’s main entrance. Each season has its challenges and a common one is dealing with the park’s squirrels. Squirrels, Burton said, destroy approximately 100 light strands each year. The Festival of Lights Committee expresses gratitude to Chillicothe Parks and Recreation, City of Chillicothe, Chillicothe Municipal Utilities, and to Chillicothe Correctional Center for the groups of offenders who help with the annual event; to Johnston Rental for the use of the lift, and Sydenstricker Farm & Lawn for the use of a Gator. The committee also noted the efforts of the teams of employees from Hedrick Medical Center, Harden, Cummins, Moss & Miller, Grand River Health Care, MidWest Glove & Gear and Citizens Bank & Trust, along with students from Chillicothe Middle School, GRTS Career Independence Program and Chillicothe Alternative Center for Education for decorating designated areas. “As always, we welcome everyone’s help with this project,” Burton said. “We are all volunteers.” She stated that volunteers will be taking down the lights on the warmer days in January. Burton said the committee needs help rolling up light strands and cords, packing tubs with lights, labeling and organizing. Help also is needed to repair lights during the off-season months. “It’s an indoor job and instruction is available,” she said. “Any amount of time that can be given is appreciated.” Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. The lights of the park are operated by a timer and come on at 4 p.m. and remain on until midnight. The festival will continue until shortly after Jan. 1, although the specific date depends upon the weather, Burton said.