Winter Wonderland lights up Ashland
ASHLAND — In its 25th year, Ashland's Winter Wonderland of Lights Festival kicked off with a bang. Literally.
In years past, the winners of the Winter Wonderland Pageant have flipped a dummy switch on a countdown from the crowd attending the official opening event in Ashland's Central Park. After the ceremonial turning of the switch, the light displays that will adorn the park until the new year are gradually powered up by city employees in the park and street departments.
This year, when the switch was flipped, a concealed cannon near the front of the bandstand in the park went off with a roar that surprised and perhaps startled some of the roughly 200 people who turned out for the event.
But all was forgiven as the smoke cleared and the lights came up around the park, topped off with the appearance of Santa Claus at the bandstand.
For the 25th anniversary, some major changes have been made to the displays.
Every display in the park is now equipped with LED lights, replacing the more dim, incandescent bulbs that lit up some of the older displays, said Marion Russell, chairman of the Winter Wonderland of Lights Festival and head of Ashland's public works department.
This season also marks the return of a crowd favorite, a display called "The Candy Factory," which shows elves busily producing candy. The display had been absent for the past two years.
"It's back with a whole new design, and seven-way animation," Russell said. "Just to get that done was $16,500. I have to say that number, because it's important.
"This is always a big night for us, and it being the 25th anniversary, it's even bigger."
Ashland Mayor Chuck Charles talked about how traditions like Winter Wonderland and Summer Motion -- which celebrated its 25th anniversary last summer -- have helped shape the identity of the city.
"It's part of us, it's part of our community, and that's what it's all about," Charles said. "It shows stability that the community supports these things, and they truly love the Winter Wonderland of Lights. It brings in thousands and thousands of visitors to our city, and we want to be that hub with something like this."
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