By Mindy Ragan Wood, Staff Writer – Wide-eyed children, smiling parents and blushing teens holding hands enjoyed a trip through Yukon’s dazzling Christmas in the Park last weekend.
Director of Parks and Recreation Jan Scott said it’s a wonderful time of year for employees who staff the nearly three-mile route between S. Holly and Vandament Avenue.
“It’s really rewarding because we get to see everyone happy and smiling. It’s especially fun to watch the kids’ reactions but everyone enjoys it,” she said.
A tremendous amount of effort goes into the production. Preparation starts in late August or early September and a push to the November deadline keeps the department on its toes.
“It’s a lot of work. Four million bulbs, and 425 displays. It all started with the Patriot Project and then we had another work day with the different city departments who came out and helped park maintenance to get it ready,” Scott said. “It’s a city-wide effort.”
Manning the park from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. every night is a demanding task for the parks and rec staff. During the week four to five employees are on duty, but on weekends there are at least a dozen.
“They keep the bathrooms clean, help direct traffic, dressing up in costume. It’s a big effort,” Scott said.
Some of the displays stand as tall as 30 feet and all displays are kept intact and in storage in a maintenance building. The crews use pulleys to maneuver the tallest and heaviest displays in and out of storage. The lights stay on the wire frames, with every bulb an LED.
“We’ve switched over the years to LED lights and that gives us more flexibility as to where they’re moved around. They can go in any panels because now we don’t have to worry about which ones have a certain amperage or wattage,” Scott said. “Each display is planned out as to the layout. It’s very intentional.”
The foot traffic is significant with walkers coming out during the mild nighttime temperatures, but the vehicle traffic is astounding.
“We use traffic counts and the highest we’ve seen is 65,000 cars. There’s probably three to four people in every car, so that’s a lot of people. We put a push pin on a map for every car tag out of state we saw and that was 48 states,” Scott said.
Passenger traffic for the train rides is also steady. Park employee Julia Puckett said 1,552 people boarded the train last Saturday and an additional 1,278 rode the train Sunday night, but that was before closing.
“We’re breaking records galore,” she said.
Christmas in the Park is one of the biggest in the state. Midwest City’s Holiday Lights Spectacular is 1.5 miles long with 1 million lights. Chickasha’s Festival of Lights boasts “more than four miles” and 3.5 million lights. Christmas in the Park is three miles and four million bulbs.
“Ours is really packed in tight,” she said of the 100-acre tri-park complex. “There is a lot to see.”
Christmas in the Park’s popularity has grown over the years with social media but Scott said the proximity to Interstate 40 also keeps traffic coming in.
“They (motorists) see it from I-40 and drive in and they’re shocked to see how big it is,” she said.
The displays have grown from the early days of a few lights strung around City Park to what it is today.
“This is our 22nd year and it just keeps growing,” Scott said.
Donations are accepted at every exit which funds the following year’s show.
Tickets for the train ride are $2 but free to seniors and children under age four. It takes approximately 30 minutes to go through the park by vehicle.