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Christmas at the Park:
Growing the Holiday Tradition

By Audrey Hanes, photography by Audrey Poff and Rachel Carmack

Christmas at the Park, a winter wonderland drive-thru holiday light display that debuted last year at Joe Mack Campbell Park, will be back bigger and better than before for the 2020 holiday season. This year, the festive experience will also serve as the host for Jonesboro’s annual Christmas parade, a longstanding tradition that Christmas at the Park founder Adam Sartin was keen to save.

Christmas at the Park, which opened Nov. 25 for the 2020 season, will run most nights through Dec. 31. The drive-thru, which spans more than half a mile by car, has grown from 399 displays to almost 450 this year, and the light count from 350,000 to more than 400,000. Sartin, the driving force behind Christmas at the Park’s inaugural year in 2019, says install takes approximately 1,000 hours; on an average day, eight people are on-site working on four to five different areas for two and a half weeks.

“The Jonesboro Regional Chamber of Commerce is proud to be a partner and supporter of Christmas at the Park,” said Jonesboro Regional Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Mark Young. “Last year, the attraction brought people from the entire region to Jonesboro to experience the magic of lights at Christmas. We encourage everyone to make this an annual tradition and to see the growing number of displays.”

The chamber, along with founding sponsor St. Bernards Medical Group, was key in making Sartin’s idea of a trail of lights a reality in 2019. The new venture was enthusiastically received by Jonesboro and the surrounding area.

“The inaugural Christmas at the Park was exceptional,” said Sartin, who also owns Ground Crew, a local landscape management company that is Christmas at the Park’s presenting sponsor. “We had 14,151 vehicles with an estimated 57,029 guests. We had 17 sponsors and five partners (no monetary contribution) support the attraction. A partnership with the city transportation system (JETs) was created to provide transportation for those without. Guests had the opportunity to meet and take their own pictures with Santa at no charge. A Letters to Santa area was available for kids to share their Christmas list. An evening of caroling with approximately 50 people joining in, a night of fireworks with over 200 in attendance and an evening with the Howl and Scarlet mascots were all organized by Christmas at the Park.”

Sartin says that during Christmas at the Park’s debut season, he and his fellow organizers learned how to more efficiently operate their schedule, adjust how power runs across drive lanes and that providing elves around the concession area to assist guests was vitally important in enhancing the experience. All of those changes will be apparent in the 2020 season, along with some extra precautions because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The health and safety of our guests, staff and volunteers has garnered hours of discussion,” said Sartin. “Our mission, to create an unforgettable holiday experience, begins and ends with guests having a safe experience. The pandemic has required people to stay in their homes, and many are feeling the fatigue. We are honored to provide our region something that provides a safe place for even the most vulnerable to enjoy.

“And for those who are less at risk, the Santa area has been laid out so that guests of all ages can still have a special connection with Santa while maintaining 6-foot distancing. We have also created a walkable area around the concession stand and to the Christmas tree to give guests an opportunity to connect with each other while maintaining social distancing. While it is outside, we will ask guests to wear a mask except for when taking a picture.”

In addition to the pandemic precautions, another change to Christmas at the Park’s 2020 season is that the site will also play host to a remixed version of the Jonesboro Jaycee’s beloved Christmas parade. The 73rd annual parade was originally cancelled because of COVID-19 before Sartin stepped in.

“On Saturday morning, the day after the Jonesboro Jaycees released the press announcement cancelling the parade, I saw the news,” said Sartin. “The year 2020 has been challenging for so many reasons, this seemed like another blow. Bill Campbell, City of Jonesboro director of communications, connected me with Hilary Trickey, and she and I hashed out the parade remix. It was clear the Jonesboro Jaycees have a heart for their community; Christmas at the Park was simply the partnership that gave them an avenue for that service.

“Floats will be parked along the drive-thru and exit road of the attraction. It is a reverse parade – you drive, they stay put. We have recommended to the Jaycees that those who enter a float consider staying on the float for at least an hour or so for the evening of Dec. 3 to create as much of a traditional parade experience as possible.”

Admission to Christmas at the Park will be waived for the evening of the parade. Because the Jonesboro Jaycees were unable to raise money at the Northeast Arkansas District Fair this year, they are counting on the parade remix to support their Christmas for Kids service program that provides toys and food to impoverished children. The group encourages guests to make a $10 donation to benefit Christmas for Kids. For those unable to attend the night of the parade, floats will remain in place through Dec. 6.

Other special events will also be a part of the season. Along with providing free admission to all foster homes in the surrounding eight counties, Christmas at the Park will have two benefit nights with net proceeds and donations benefiting CityYouth Ministries on Dec. 10 and Hope Found of Northeast Arkansas on Dec. 15. Also, on Dec. 2, 9 and 16, guests are able to pay what they can with the hope that those who are able to pay more will pay it forward. Due to the pandemic, event nights, where partners create a special evening for guests, have either been scaled back or cancelled for the 2020 season.

One thing is for certain: Jonesboro’s growing trail of lights is here to stay. Sartin says he and other organizers were overwhelmed by the positive community response last year, as well as the continued support this year despite the pandemic.

“Everyone expressed their appreciation and excitement to have a local holiday trail of lights right here in Jonesboro,” said Sartin. “My most memorable experience was when I was working the car line – one of the reserve officers was speaking to another car and waved me over. He pointed at the car and said, ‘This woman would like to say something to you.’ I leaned down to see in the passenger seat a sweet, frail, elderly woman who raised her hands, shaking, and asked to shake mine. She grasped both hands around mine and simply said, ‘Thank you so much. I loved getting to see all the lights.’ It was a heartwarming moment that I will never forget.

“It has helped me grow as a person, as a leader and has given me a tremendous opportunity to serve others in a tangible way. Having the opportunity to be a part of something that brings tens of thousands of smiles is something that is a true blessing.”

For more information about Christmas at the Park, located at 600 Harry Drive in Joe Mack Campbell Park, or about the remix of the Jonesboro Jaycees Christmas Parade, visit christmasattheparknea.com or find Christmas at the Park on Facebook. For park hours, a full schedule of special events, partner event nights and Santa appearances, visit christmasattheparknea.com/schedule.