By Herb Meeker
News Report Staff
Effingham Wonderland in Lights has drawn more than 5,300 vehicles and collected more than $13,100 in donations since opening in November.
And residents or visitors to Effingham have six more nights to see the Christmas displays at Community Park. Wonderland in Lights will end on the night of Tuesday, Jan. 3. Extending the lighting show into January was by popular demand to conform to the full extent of the holiday season.
Though the lighting display will not match last year’s records on traffic volume or donations – 6,000 vehicles and more than $14,600 -- the Christmas tradition was successful in different ways. Donations help pay for expenses of the annual display and acquire new decorations.
“We didn’t have any empty slots for volunteers at the end of the route,” said Effingham Tourism Director Jodi Thoele. “We just had volunteers coming out of the woodwork. That has been true for the last couple of years. It used to be difficult to find volunteers to fill two slots for seven nights from the start of Wonderland Lights. This year, we had to put a limit on the number of slots people could take. They were happy to be out there.”
There were also many compliments offered to the volunteers by visitors driving through.
“We had so much positive feedback about the displays. We had added eight of them this year,” Thoele said.
A blast of winter weather did force a shutdown of Wonderland in Lights. Normally, that would hurt the visitor and donation totals, but the icy rainfall came on the Saturday before Christmas, which is usually the busiest night for Wonderland in Lights. Visitors were also discouraged another night that weekend due to icy conditions, especially with the steep hills at the start and end of the route.
“That meant we lost up to 600 vehicles coming through and another $1,500 in potential donations. It was unfortunate we had to shut down the route, but the main concern was public safety that night,” Thoele said.
There is still time to visit Community Park for this edition of the holiday displays. Volunteers will not be present, but the donation box will be in place at the little house at the end of the route. Santa uses that house on Saturdays, but he is back at the North Pole preparing for next Christmas.
Thoele said Wonderland in Lights will be concentrating on Christmas 2017.
“We’ll be looking at new displays in February. That’s when we get started on next year,” Thoele said.