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Light it up — again

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Christmas in the Park returns to Freeman Lake

By Marty Finley

Elizabethtown’s premier Christmas destination has returned to Freeman Lake Park for its 22nd year, free to let loose after a city sewer project inside the park left some areas restricted last year.

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Christmas in the Park opens tonight and runs 6 to 11 p.m. daily through Jan. 1. There is no admission cost.

Billy Pait, a member of the Christmas in the Park committee, said there are a series of new displays and fewer dark spaces this year.

Several businesses have constructed first-time entries, including Sugar Fashion Cakes, Elizabethtown Christian Academy, Tuff Shed, Rick’s Detailing, Upton Baptist Church and Sunrise Children’s Services. There are more than 100 displays and in excess of 1 million lights inside the park. Pait said the committee has installed smaller “filler” displays, such as elves peeking through bushes, Pait said.

“It’s well over 100,” he said of the displays.

Nolin RECC has reanimated one of its older displays once featured in Hodgenville at the city’s request, Pait added.

Beyond the restricted spaces caused by comprehensive sewer project last year, lowered water levels forced the committee to shelve popular dragon and dolphin displays atop the lake. With water levels stabilized, Pait said the display have made their return.

“I know everyone missed the dragon last year,” he said.

Likewise, more businesses have turned to LED lighting for their displays this year, which emit better light and strike a better image for visitors. Towne Mall and St. James Catholic Church were among the latest to make the swap, he said.

“The displays look better and, of course, we like it because they make the energy bill lower,” he said.

The displays fare better, too, because energy-efficient lighting does not overload systems, causing temporary blackouts inside the park, he said.

As for the dark spaces, Pait said the city has full access to the park and was able to close in those gaps in the display evident last year.

“They should be able to go through it nice and slowly,” he said of visitors.

Pait said the committee did not face any major challenges in staging this year’s displays, but Nolin RECC — usually one of the first to set up — had to push back its work in the park because so many workers were away assisting with hurricane relief on the east coast.

The event has more than quadrupled in size since its inception in the early 1990s when the illuminated showcase made its debut with less than 25 displays. The idea was the brainchild of former Mayor Pat Durbin, who saw a holiday display during a trip to Ashland for her son’s basketball tournament.

Since its start, it has been recognized statewide by the tourism industry for its ability to engage out-of-town visitors and was designated a top 10 winter event/holiday destination this year by the Kentucky Travel Industry Association.

Sherry Murphy, executive director of the Elizabethtown Tourism & Convention Bureau, said the event has garnered the designation several times, an honor she said is no “small feat.”

Murphy said Elizabethtown is lucky to have such a jaw-dropping display each year.

“I honestly don’t think the Kentucky Horse Park has much on Christmas in the Park,” she said.

Mayor Tim Walker said Christmas in the Park is a major asset to Elizabethtown because its showcases the city to out-of-town visitors but also provides familiarity for local residents and their families who travel here for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

“It’s something we look forward to every year,” he said.

Marty Finley can be reached at (270) 505-1762 or mfinley@thenewsenterprise.com.