Festival of Lights keep right

An SUV is shown headed south on Gil Hopson Drive Friday morning inside Central Park in Murray near the Bailey Pavilion area. This is where traffic cones and a barricade are positioned to guide vehicles with viewers of the Festival of Lights/Christmas in the Park show. Murray-Calloway County Parks Director Ryan Yates cautions everyone to keep right as they travel Gil Hopson to see the show that starts tonight.

MURRAY — The 2019 version of the Murray Bank Festival of Lights/Christmas in the Park show in Murray is mere hours from opening. 

The show officially opens for viewing at 5 p.m. today at Central and Chestnut parks in Murray. This is also the first time donations in the form of canned/nonperishable food items or cash will be accepted near the ranger station at the entrance of Central. 

The show had a sneak preview Thursday night that was witnessed by a chosen few as the lights were activated for a short time by the show’s creator, Murray-Calloway County Parks and Recreation Maintenance Director Steve Wilhelm. He said Friday that the test run appears to have been successful.

“I think it looks really great,” Wilhelm said. “And I’m glad we’re at this point.”

This year, the road to tonight has been met with some rough stretches, namely having to do with one display. The police car of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 23 was stolen, twice, in the last two weeks. The first time, it was returned without incident, fully intact, and with no damage. The second time, which was earlier this week, it came back damaged so badly that it could not be repaired in time to be part of this year’s show. 

“I’m kind of glad to get everything going with this now,” Wilhelm said of how he and his team — Parks and Recreation employees LaTosha Shankle, Sammy Cain and Tonya Kendall — have worked this week while trying to put the events of the last two weeks behind them. “That’s over. It’s time to do this.”

Murray-Calloway County Parks Director Ryan Yates said he is looking forward to seeing how this year’s show is received. The setup includes about 500 individual displays that wind through Central, pretty much following Gil Hopson in its entire route, and a sizable amount along Chestnut Street at the northern edge of Chestnut Park. That area was incorporated into the show about two years ago as the show expanded.

“We’re here. We’re finally here and that’s the main thing,” Yates said. “Brighter days are coming, no pun intended.”

Visitors are advised that the route on Gil Hopson could be a bit confusing, especially for someone who has never seen the show. Yates said traffic cones have been placed along the road as a way to direct visitors in a certain manner. 

“What we ask of people is that they come in and just stay to the right the whole way. If you stay right, you can go no wrong,” he said, emphasizing the area near the Bailey Pavilion and Rotary Club of Murray Amphitheater/Performing Arts Pavilion. “You’re going to go straight through the back of the park, then as you wrap back around, you’re going to stay right (and drift into the Bailey parking lot before returning to Gil Hopson after circling the parking lot). 

“So if everybody will just remember to keep right of those cones, they’ll be fine.”

Tonight’s weather forecast is calling for rain at about the time the show opens. Yates said the show will continue rain or no rain, but as far as donations being taken, that could be up in the air. 

Yates said volunteers who accept the donations are not asked to stand in heavy rain, but most times, they do anyway.

“Go ahead and bring your donations,” he said, noting that cash donations go Parks and Recreation and food donations go to both Murray-Calloway County Need Line and Soup for the Soul. 

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