Light the Park is a ‘bright’ spot on the town calendar

Wendy SmithFarragut, The Farragut Insider

The Parks & Recreation department is knee-deep in Freaky Friday Fright Nite preparations. Bags of candy are stacked on desks and stuffed in closets, and bits and pieces of Halloween costumes float around our cubicles. But just up the road at Founders Park at Campbell Station, the Public Works department is already hard at work on the town’s next annual event – Light the Park.

Farragut is a small town with a small staff, but we love our holiday lights. We flock together to watch the lights come on during Countdown to Light the Park (which is before Thanksgiving this year on Monday, Nov. 25), and we stop by Founders Park throughout December to drop off letters for Santa, listen to carolers and take photos with family members. It’s truly a stunning display that gets bigger as the years go by.

That’s why the lights start going up in October. The shimmering, twinkling “drip” lights are already installed, as are glowing ball lights. Other preparations began as early as September, says Public Works Director Bud McKelvey.

His crew replaced 6,000 sockets and bulbs on the candy cane features, painstaking work that took days. Arches are also under construction to support a “tunnel of lights” for the lower bridge at Founders Park. Doing the work in-house allows McKelvey to create a masterpiece of lights without breaking the bank.

He and Town Administrator David Smoak work together to dream up ways to expand the light show.

“David has crazy ideas and I figure out a way to do them on our limited budget.”

Decorations at Light the Park started simply. The first lighted trees were made from wooden poles with strings of lights tied to wooden stakes in the ground. When additional trees were requested, McKelvey knew he’d need a better design. Metal frames for trees could be purchased for $800-$1,500, but the Public Works department opted to manufacture the frames themselves for approximately $300 each. The lights are the most expensive part of each tree, he says. Last year, there were 69 lighted trees, ranging in size from 8-12 feet, and six trees will be added this year. The total number of lights will be boosted from 68,000 to 78,000.

The centerpiece of Light the Park is the 63.5-foot tree in the center of the park’s greenspace. It’s the last feature to be installed and requires the rental of an 80-foot bucket truck and “a lot of people on the ground.” The giant tree is McKelvey’s favorite part of the display.

It’s an enormous amount of labor on top of the department’s regular work, but it pays off in the form of happy citizens. Through the years, McKelvey has received numerous photos of happy children inside the lighted trees at the park.

“It’s just a lot of color, a lot to see,” he says. “It’s all about the kids and their families. That’s why we do it. It’s a little different from what everybody else does.”

To see a schedule of the town’s upcoming events:

Wendy Smith coordinates marketing and public relations for the town of Farragut.

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