What Happens After OC’s Winterfest Goes Dark

OCEAN CITY – Now that the lights have gone out, where do all the lights go?

As the Winterfest of Lights pulled the plug on yet another year of widespread holiday “oohs” and “aahs” from onlookers both young and old, the arduous task of tearing down and storing over 100,000 lights and large displays that illuminate the town during the annual holiday celebration sits squarely on the shoulders of the John Sullivan, Calvin Ginnavan and Bruce Gibbs.

According to City Manager Dennis Dare, Sullivan, who handles special events in the town works closely with Ginnavan, town parks superintendent, to handle the “put up and tear down” in Northside Park.  Bruce Gibbs, superintendent of Public Works Maintenance Division, takes care of the rest of the decorations that are spread out all over town.

“We start taking everything down on Jan. 2, starting with the trees on Coastal Highway, then Baltimore Avenue, City Hall and save the Inlet for last.  It takes us about six weeks using 12 employees to take everything down”, said Gibbs.

There are well over 100 different decorations that sit in the Inlet alone, and 28, 18-foot Christmas trees that sit on Coastal Highway making the tear down process a long one, but what’s even longer is what has to happen before and after setup.

“Before the lights get stored, we steam clean all the decorations, check for damage and replace light bulbs as needed, which we do in order to get all the salt off these displays before we store them for 10 months,” he said.

The lights and decorations are stored, according to Gibbs, in five 45-foot trailers and one large storage building off Keyser Point Road in West Ocean City.

Ginnavan said that the process to create the larger portion of the Winterfest of Lights in Northside Park starts almost when the last summer visitors are leaving town.

“We started moving the storage trailers to Northside Park the week starting Sept. 8 so that the displays could be prepped for the set up,” he said. “The displays were tested to make sure the wiring and bulbs were in working order, and we started setting the approximately 125 displays on Oct. 9 so we could have everything operational by opening night.”

Ginnavan said it takes 19 employees working eight hours a day, five days a week to do the repairs to the displays   as well as change bulbs throughout the duration of Winterfest, and Gibbs said that it should be noted that more manpower is needed once the displays are set up as the town’s electricians must go through and professionally install the lights.

Manpower has become a concern for future years at the Winterfest of Lights, according to Dare who said that the hiring freeze that the town has implemented makes it difficult for the current workforce to keep up with the ever-growing workload.

“If we continue to cut back on the number of employees that the town has, we are going to have to cut back on the number of decorations that we have in the Winterfest of Lights,” said Dare. “It’s just that simple.”

Ginnavan said it takes almost two months to completely tear down and store the Northside Park portion of Winterfest, but he expects to be finished by March 1, just in time to “start prepping the fields for the spring seasons.”

Ginnavan has no concrete number of the amount of lights used in Winterfest, but decoration documents provided by Gibbs showed that 50 boxes of lights (each with 1,000) were used all over Ocean City, however, that number omitted the number of lights used in Northside Park, which could easily bring the number of lights used in Winterfest 2008 to well over 100,000.