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Trails of Lights: Celebrating trails and greenways

From the Spring 2005 Trail Tracks, the national newsletter of American Trails

March 3, 2005

Festival shines on Austin's pathways

photo: city lights at night

photo of lights in trees at night
photos by Victor Ovalle

The Trail of Lights Festival is an annual Austin holiday tradition and celebration held in Zilker Metropolitan Park. Though the festival began as a drive-through event it was changed to a pedestrian event in 1998. A 5K run is held as a preview event through the mile long display which is lighted for the first time during the run.

Each year a parade opens the Trail of Lights on the second Sunday of December and runs through the 23rd. In 2003, the Trail of Lights hosted over 364,721 visitors, lit over 1 million lights, and ran with the help of over 2,500 volunteers.

For more on the Trail of Lights:

Ozark Greenways Lights Up the Frisco Highline Trail

By Terry Whaley, American Trails Board Member

photo of holiday decorations by trail
photos by Terry Whaley

Ozark Greenways Inc., a non-profit trail organization located in Springfield Missouri has been working on the development of a 35-mile rail trail for several years. New trailhead improvements for the Frisco Highline Trail trailhead in Willard Missouri have become the catalysts for a new Christmas holiday light show for the community of Willard.

With two years under their belts planners say that "Christmas on the Frisco" is poised to become a long-standing tradition for the Springfield suburb. Willard has a population of 3,193 and is the main starting point for many cyclists and trail users in the area. However, as winter moves in trail usage slows and the opportunity for a community wide holiday lighting display on the trailhead was conceived.

photo of trailside holiday

The response to participate in the light display surprised event organizers when additional electricity had to be added to accommodate the 22-requests for display space the first year. Feedback indicated the additional outlets and electric supply would be needed to grow the event again for the second year. All indications were that the event could double in size. That assumption proved to come true, and with donations from the Willard Chamber of Commerce, Conco Company, a local quarry business, and a $25.00 fee to display additional electric was added in time for the 2004 event, which grew to 34-lighted displays. Support from another seven organizations in town provided for refreshments, safety, traffic control, and the candle lit trail as spectators arrived.

 The action does not stop with the lighted displays…. in fact that is just the start! To kick off the event a creative candy cane switch was made for the mayor to pull and light up the displays as the crowd of 700 counted provides and energetic count down. But that only occurs after the Willard High School jazz band performs several holiday tunes. The crowd is also entertained by a reading of the Christmas Story by the 4-H club, which is backed up with a live nativity scene. Now we're ready 3-2-1…. throw that switch, and listed the cheers, as a darkly lit trailhead becomes a wonderland of lighted trees, bicycling snowmen, candy canes, and traditional holiday figures.

All that is left is the arrival of Santa, which does not happen by sleigh and reindeer as you might expect, but by a Harley with a sidecar. Santa and sidecar are escorted with no less then 14-Harley driving buddies dressed with reindeer antler hats and festive lights. The conclusion of the event has been an attempt by local church choirs to lead the crowd in Christmas carols…. not an easy act when you have to follow a Harley driving Santa!

The popularity of this event has spawned interest in the trail and additional improvements for the trailhead. It has also spawned an opportunity for local business to extend their hours on the night of the event and offer open houses for attracting new customers. There is also talk of reviving the once popular community home decorating contest, and next year Santa's Harley escort is planning a toy drive as their part of the event.

 With six-miles of trail between Springfield and Willard there is plenty of room for growth. What would make that much easier for the planning committee are solar powered displays. We're looking into that!

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