OCEAN CITY – The construction of the famous Winterfest of Lights has begun in Ocean City and, before you know it, the holiday season will be here.
Winterfest of Lights will open at Northside Park on 125th Street, Thursday, Nov. 18 and will run through the New Year, Jan. 2, 2011.
The event will begin with the official tree lighting ceremony when Mayor Rick Meehan will welcome all guests and the Ocean City Elementary School Stars will perform a music program. Also that night the winter train will become operational and everybody gets to ride for free.
According to John Sullivan, Special Event Coordinator for Recreation and Parks, the construction of Winterfest began at the end of September and will not be completed until right before opening.
“We have a fleet of a dozen tractor trailers and they are pulled up to Northside Park,” Sullivan said. “The parks division goes in and takes out the displays for inspection. They re-bulb them, check the wiring and then they hull them out to the fields where they’ll be set up.”
Every year the Recreation and Parks team looks to make Winterfest a little more special.
“Each year the displays go in different locations, and we change the music to go along with them,” Sullivan said. “There is over 100 lighted animated displays and over 800,000 light bulbs…It costs $6,000-$7,000 a year to light the displays.”
Having so many lights in such an energy aware environment has made the division make some beneficial changes each year.
“We are now converting some [light bulbs] every year from the incandescent light bulbs, that burn hot and have to be replaced every year, to the new third generation LED bulb,” Sullivan said. “These bulbs are actually cold, no heat, and each bulb can be any color in the color spectrum you want them to be. Their also more vibrant.”
The two largest displays at Winterfest are the 50-foot tree and the candy cane poinsettia wreath. Both have been installed with third generation LED light bulbs this year, which will reduce the cost. “They are so vibrant, just beautiful,” Sullivan said.
There is more to take part in when visiting the Winterfest of Lights than taking in the vibrant displays.
“Inside the heated tent there is three different buildings,” Sullivan said. “One is the Santa House, where you can have your photo taken with Santa and ask him what you would like for Christmas. Or you can go to the Yukon Cornelius Gift Shop and buy some wonderful gifts. Or the Ocean City Recreation Boosters, our non-profit group, run the hot chocolate café. The money raised goes back into the recreation program.”
The parks division has three or four different supplemented part-time temporary employees who are hired to help construct the festival. Drivers who run the trams downtown in the summer are re-hired to drive the winter trains. They also hire 24 people to work inside the tent and have eight work each night.
According to Tom Shuster, director of the Recreation and Parks Department, last year’s revenue for Winterfest was around $330,000. There were just fewer than 75,000 people who attended the festival and the largest night was the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend when 7,791 people attended.
“The busiest times after opening night are the four days around Thanksgiving, those are the four largest days,” Shuster said. “Then the weekends leading up to New Years are very busy also.”
The Winterfest of Lights has become a tradition for many near and even far.
“It puts you in the holiday mood,” Sullivan said. “Everybody becomes a kid when they come to Winterfest of Lights.”