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A Sparkling New Experience
Christmas at the Park

By Audrey Hanes, photography by Melissa Donner

The 2019 holiday season will bring a special new experience to the Jonesboro community – Christmas at the Park. The drive-thru light show features 399 pieces with more than 350,000 lights and came about thanks to Ground Crew owner Adam Sartin, St. Bernards Medical Center, the City of Jonesboro and many others in the community who stepped up to make a Christmas wish a reality.

“In July of 2018, I attended our company’s Christmas Décor franchise conference and ordered two pieces to provide a sample for Ground Crew’s client base,” said Sartin, the owner of the full-service landscape management company in Jonesboro. “My family then went to a drive-thru light show, and my girls loved the experience. As I admired the displays, I realized Jonesboro as a community needed a Christmas tradition we can call our own. I made a phone call to Danny Kapales, director of Jonesboro Parks and Recreation, who connected me with Lydia Parkey, executive director of St. Bernards Medical Group, and the rest is history.”

Parkey said that a drive-thru Christmas light experience in Jonesboro has long been a dream for Dr. Matt Garner, president of St. Bernards Medical Group. That dream became a reality when the City of Jonesboro brought Sartin and St. Bernards together to put pen to paper and bring big ideas to fruition.

“We hope it will bring a lot of joy to folks all across Northeast Arkansas as they come to create a new and lasting holiday tradition,” said Garner. “We believe this will be a real source of pride and excitement for all residents.

“… The physicians of St. Bernards Medical Group are excited to be the founding sponsors of Christmas at the Park. We, of course, want to take care of you when you are sick, but we also are thrilled to have the opportunity to make your holidays a little brighter. You know, Proverbs says ‘A cheerful heart is good medicine.’ We believe Christmas at the Park is good medicine.”

The City of Jonesboro was eager to support Sartin’s idea, as well. The Ground Grew owner says that the city has been vital in ensuring that Joe Mack Campbell Park would be a suitable location for this type of attraction.

“I was approached by Adam Sartin, who asked for assistance in making the event a reality,” said Mayor Harold Perrin. “I was excited to be a part of Adam’s idea and naturally wanted to help connect partners, including our own parks, police and fire departments, as well as CWL (City Water & Light), who would be critical in bringing this to life. I think Adam has done an amazing job, and our city leaders are always eager to chip in when it creates good things for Jonesboro residents.”

Perrin says that because Jonesboro is growing rapidly as a city, everyone has different wants and needs, but the addition of Christmas at the Park is a perfect reminder that there are a lot of good people and good things going on in Jonesboro.

“This experience will be like none other in Jonesboro – even this first year – and I think it will become a tradition that our children grow up and share with their own children,” said Perrin.

Sartin says they have also partnered with the parks department to operate the concession stand, with all proceeds benefiting the City Stars program, and police reserve officers have been hired to provide traffic control and security.

“We are excited to use a facility that is otherwise vacant during our operations to help generate revenue, as well as attract people from all over the region to see the many benefits of the park and come back during other seasons,” said Sartin.

The more than half-mile-long drive-thru features an estimated 37 different collections of displays and took Sartin’s team and subcontractors more than 932 man hours to install.

“Our team has provided Christmas Décor services since 2001 for homes and businesses across Northeast Arkansas,” said Sartin, who helped coordinate and organize the many aspects of the attraction. “Helping with the Christmas at the Park attraction is a natural fit for us to present a holiday experience that serves our community at large. … There has been a tremendous amount of involvement for this to become reality, and I am thrilled to have been involved from the beginning and see this project become a reality.”

The park opened Nov. 22 and will be open 35 days total through Jan. 4. In addition to regular hours, Christmas at the Park will host a variety of events for the community, including Jonesboro Radio Group Event Night on Dec. 6, Northeast Arkansas Fox & CBS Event Night on Dec. 13, St. Bernards Medical Group Event Night on Dec. 14, a Santa Shuffle Fun Run on Dec. 17, Arkansas BlueCross BlueShield Event Night on Dec. 19 and Ritter Communications Event Night on Dec. 20.

“Christmas at the Park is a drive-thru of lighted displays, but the experience has so much more to offer on any given night,” said Sartin.

“Every night guests can participate in a Howl and Scarlet Scavenger Hunt, take pictures with our props and visit the concession stand. On other nights, guests may find Santa, Howl and Scarlet mascots, sponsor event nights, community caroling and a fireworks show. We also have a toy drive and food drive, along with offering free admission to all foster families in the surrounding eight counties. We want people to come out as many times as they would like, so we are working to make each experience a little different with the help of our sponsors.”

Another key sponsor is Arkansas State University, which will be represented in several places along the tour of lights.

“One of the elements in developing the concept was to tie the attraction to this area,” said Sartin. “We did this by creating the tie to Arkansas State University. We are thrilled to have created custom lighted displays of Howl, Scarlet and other A-State features.”

Children will be able to circle where they spot A-State displays on the map to get free hot chocolate at the end of the drive.

“We are excited to participate in this new community engagement project and were thrilled when the organizers asked us if we would allow them to create special Howl and Scarlet figures,” said A-State Chancellor Dr. Kelly Damphousee. “I can’t wait to see how it turns out and how much fun the local kids will have with the contest to find where Howl and Scarlet are hiding along the trail.”

Sartin said it has been a true community effort to make Christmas at the Park a reality, with one of his favorite parts of the experience being the extensive number of people he has had the opportunity to connect with during the process.

“This has been a bit of an undertaking, (one) I would estimate that has involved close to 200 people, from weekly conversations with Danny Kapales to a one-time visit with Joe at Joe’s RV to ask if I could put a sign on his property,” said Sartin. “He said, ‘Yes!’”

It has also reminded Sartin and others involved with the drive-thru light show to slow down and focus on the true meaning of Christmas.

“It is simple to find purpose in what Christmas at the Park is about,” said Sartin. “While Christmas may begin with the lights, music and festivities, we cannot forget the true purpose – the birth of Jesus. He is the reason not only for the season, but (He) exists in our daily lives. I hope Christmas at the Park is about more than the hustle, bustle and commercialization of the holiday.

“… I’m thankful I have been able to play a part in helping create something that people of all ages and accessibilities can participate in.”

Christmas at the Park, located in Joe Mack Campbell Park, 3021 Dan Ave, is open the following dates and hours: Thursday through Sunday through Dec. 8, 5-10 p.m.; nightly Dec. 12-23, 5-10 p.m.; and Thursday through Sunday from Dec. 26 to Jan. 4, 5-10 p.m. A general admission pass is $10 cash at the gate. For a full event schedule and to purchase tickets online, visit christmasattheparknea.com.