Festival of Lights opens tomorrow in Paul Ogle Riverfront Park

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Christmas is for the young and the young at heart; and this Saturday, the Paul Ogle Riverfront Park in Vevay will light up with the magic of the holidays.

Highlighting tomorrow’s ‘First Friday’ celebration will be the arrival of Santa Claus and the official lighting of the festival of lights in the park.

The display of dozens of inflatables and thousands of lights has been accomplished by the dedicated work of a handful of residents, led by Larry Tolbert of the Switzerland County Tourism Board.

“I can’t take credit for the idea, it was somebody else’s good idea,” Larry Tolbert said. “I just got involved in it, and I guess by default, ended up in charge. I think it’s an important thing for the community. I’ve been down there of an evening and I’ve talked with people who live away from here who know about it, so it’s successful for our community.”

The results that everyone will see beginning tomorrow (Friday) night comes through the hard work of citizens who are hoping that seeing the display this year will entice younger residents to help with the work next year.

“Younger people need to get involved,” Larry Tolbert said. “Right now there’s three guys down there who are all over 70. I think that’s the most important thing that we can do, is get some younger people involved in this. Us three guys who are over 70, what would happen if we weren’t here next year?”

The main group working in the Paul Ogle Riverfront Park to get things ready along with Larry Tolbert includes Jim Ray, Tom Dawson, Mike Danner and Ted Brown. Several others have lent a hand on different phases of the project.

“The archery team had five members come down and work and help us, and we’re going to pay them for the hours they helped,” Larry Tolbert said. “That’s a good thing, because we’re helping those groups make some money to help with their programs.”

The biggest task that the group faced was getting everything in place in a relatively short time frame. Getting it all together is only accomplished with more people lending a hand, both during the day and also after working hours.

“We started in August testing lights and stuff and different displays and putting lights on and changing some things out,” Larry Tolbert said. “We’ve had people come and help put new lights on a display, and that helps a lot, but we can always use more help. Again, we need our community’s young people to get involved.”

He’s even found some outstanding help from a rather unexpected place.

“One of the best things that we did was that we got a hold of the women’s correctional facility at Madison,” Larry Tolbert said. “Those girls have been down there every day I’ve needed them. We would not have gotten this all down without them. They’ve worked really hard. That’s got us to where we’re at today.”

Larry Tolbert said that he believes that with everyone helping the Christmas display can get bigger and better in the coming years, adding new and better displays and more lights. He said that the plan is to convert to all LED lights, which will decrease the problem of changing out burned out bulbs year after year. That takes time and money.

The other issue being resolved by converting to LED lights is that Larry Tolbert figures that there are at least 10 different socket configurations on light strands, which makes finding the right bulb to fit in the right socket a challenging task.

Add all of those tasks to the process of physically erecting the displays all around the park, and it becomes a really major task.

“We can’t just do it all in three hours during the evening,” he said.

He also says that although the ‘big event’ is tomorrow night, there’s nothing wrong with continuing to add displays as the holiday season moves along – giving visitors a reason to visit more than once.

“We hope that everyone comes down to the park and see all of the displays all during the Christmas season,” Larry Tolbert said. “It’s a very important thing for our community, and I hope that it all continues and continues to get bigger and better.”

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In the midst of creating the lighting display, something wandered away from the park that Larry Tolbert is hoping to get back.

Late last week, a white bucket filled with a variety of things disappeared from the work area of the park. He said that the bucket contained some string lights and a few handtools and other materials; but it also contained an amp meter.

That amp meter belonged to Nelson Turner, a longtime co-worker at the park and other areas with Larry Tolbert, who passed away earlier this year. Not only does the amp meter serve an important purpose in setting up the display; but it also holds great sentimental value.

“I don’t care about the other stuff in that bucket, but I’d really like to have that amp meter back because it belonged to Nelson,” Larry Tolbert said. “No questions asked. I’d even be willing to give a small reward for its return.”

Anyone having the meter can bring it by the Vevay Media Group office at 111 West Market Street; or drop it off at the Visitors Center on Main Street.

- Pat Lanman