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Even if you aren’t a fan of the Holidays, there is something magical about twinkling lights. And for those who love the Holidays, the local light displays are likely a highlight of the season. As you wander through parks, drive along Main Street or shop the downtown area of most Arkansas towns, you will find holiday displays that range from wreaths hanging on street lamps to drive-thru wonderlands with moving pieces, music and millions of lights. No matter how big or small, a dedicated team behind each city’s display makes the magic happen.
Women for Harding’s annual wreath-fluffing event in Searcy.
Across Arkansas, Christmas light displays are kicking off their short yet magical season, much to the delight of both young and old. As you stroll through the lights, it’s easy to get lost in their brilliance and wonder without giving thought to the hard-working crews that make everything possible. Across the state, workers spend months ensuring every bulb has been checked, every wreath has been properly fluffed and every display is securely assembled.
Arkansas is blessed with some spectacular light displays, but being based in Searcy, Searcy’s Holiday of Lights is near and dear to my heart. Watching Will Walker, facilities manager of Searcy Parks & Recreation, and his dedicated team prepare the displays this season has helped me appreciate the incredible work that goes on behind the scenes of Arkansas’s holiday light displays.
Before you’ve even begun to think about Christmas, Searcy’s maintenance crew is already hard at work preparing light displays and navigating the many obstacles of installing a multilocation lighting event. In some cities, like Batesville’s White River Winter Wonderland, the holiday displays are confined to a single park or area. Searcy has a unique situation wherein their displays are spread between several parks and throughout town.
“We started setting up our ice skating rink October 5 and haven’t slowed down since. The process of installing the lights and displays is not quick, so we need all the time we can. We also continue our normal maintenance of our facilities/parks and support of local events like Beats and Eats and Pioneer Village Fall Open House, so there’s a time crunch every year to get all of our Christmas lights up. Thanks to the help of the city electricians Danny Nixon and James Smith and Community Service Supervisor Jeff Harp, we’re able to get it done.”
Photo courtesy of Searcy Holiday of Lights
The Searcy crew faced a few new obstacles this year as the lights went up. Construction on the new pickleball and tennis courts in Berryhill Park meant that changes needed to be made to their standard setup. Only so many displays can be installed on one circuit without overworking it, so four displays had to be moved to Yancey Park. This also allowed the crew to make room for the massive new light display that depicts the White County Courthouse.
Once setup has begun, each piece is carefully moved to the designated location and tested to ensure that every light works and that each display functions as expected. Repairs are made on-site, and the displays are continuously checked and repaired throughout the season as needed.
Searcy’s display is unique in that the community is invited to participate on several levels. Area businesses have added to the Christmas Scavenger Hunt and “selfie” displays. The wooden trees in Berryhill Park were all created by local companies or individuals, and the whole town comes together for the spectacular Christmas Parade. Area churches host the Living Nativity, Christmas plays, choir performances and Holiday concerts. Individuals even open their homes for holiday tours. From early November through New Year’s Eve, the city of Searcy hosts over one hundred holiday events.
The work is not yet done when the lights are turned off in January. The Searcy maintenance crew now faces the task of uninstalling and storing every display until next season.
Light strands are put in boxes, and the displays are organized and stored in a small warehouse where they are sorted by park. The skating rink is disassembled, and the light tunnels are moved to an outdoor storage area. While this part of the process goes much faster, taking about a month, it still requires a fair amount of work and resources.
One thing was evident during my time with Walker, all the credit for the hard work goes to his team. He understands that without his crew, the city wouldn’t have the spectacular light displays that draw people from all over the state to visit Searcy each Christmas. You may not know Michael Allen, Martin Corona, Quinton Hall, Shawn Lawrence, Jason Marsh, Randy Rudesill, Ford Rushing, Mikey Tribbie or Mike Parsons (Director of Searcy Parks & Recreation), but your holiday season wouldn’t be as bright without them.
The names may change, but the story is the same in every city across Arkansas. Behind the scenes are crews of hard workers going above and beyond to make your Holiday season magical.
Cover photo courtesy of Searcy Holiday of Lights.
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