WHEELING - With the flip of a switch by Wheeling Park Commission members, the 27th annual Winter Festival of Lights at Oglebay Park entered a new "green" era Thursday with energy-efficient LED lights in all 78 displays - one year ahead of schedule.
Four years ago, festival organizers committed to using LED lights in all new displays while converting existing ones to LEDs within five years. Oglebay Marketing Director Caren Knoyer said LED lights use 85 percent less energy than traditional bulbs and last five times longer.
"We want to ensure that the Winter Festival of Lights will be glowing for many more years," Knoyer added. "For example, the animated Rocking Horse Display was first added to the Festival of Lights in 1992, using 85 amps of electricity with traditional light bulbs. Now that the display has been updated with vibrant LED lights, it uses just 12 amps of electricity."
Members of the Wheeling Park Commission, from left, Bill Jones, Ron Hobbs, Sue Farnsworth, Dr. Donald Hofreuter, G. Ogden Nutting and Douglas Dalby officially open the Winter Festival of Lights at Oglebay Park on Thursday evening. The light displays can be viewed each evening through Jan. 6.
The new displays added to the festival this year also feature the energy-saving bulbs. They include a new amusement park-themed Strong Man display next to the Ferris Wheel and Carousel, as well as a new Leaping Frog display and an animated Volcano that has been added to the popular Dinosaur Dell display.
Wheeling Park Commission President and Chief Executive Officer J. Douglas Dalby said November and December are Oglebay's busiest months of the year, thanks to it hosting one of the largest holiday light shows in the nation. He also said half of those who come to the park during the holiday season are first-time visitors, but half of them come back year after year to see the show.
"Please come up and enjoy the lights," Dalby urged the public.
Knoyer noted that park employees strive each year to make the festival appealing to not only first-time visitors but also to local residents who have come to see the lights many times.
"We go out of our way to make it fresh," Knoyer said, noting that in addition to new displays, crews move existing displays around to help make the driving tour different from year to year. "We talk to people when they're here to find out what they'd like to see."
She also stressed that the annual display design contest helps give area residents a feeling of ownership when they see the lights. Entries should be on poster board with name, age, address, phone number and email printed on the back and delivered to the Good Zoo office by Jan. 6, when the festival ends. Complete contest rules are available on the Oglebay website at oglebay-resort.com/fol.htm.
And Knoyer said the park's partnership with Wheeling Park High School means that many WPHS students have helped work on the displays over the years.
"We have boys who welded the displays bringing their own children to see the lights years later," she said, adding that the former Patriots can proudly point out to their children the pieces they helped create.
The Winter Festival of Lights began in 1985 with just five light displays and landscape lighting covering about 125 acres over a 3-mile drive throughout the resort, according to Knoyer. Since then, the show has grown to cover more than 300 acres over a 6-mile drive throughout the resort.
In addition to the displays along the driving tour, the festival features the Gardens of Light in the hilltop and gardens area with 150 hanging baskets of light plus thousands of lighted flowers, trees and shrubs, combined with distinctive holiday music. Knoyer said the best way to enjoy the Gardens of Light is to stroll along the brick path that leads from Carriage House Glass to the Mansion Museum. She noted numerous requests led the park to offer a CD with the Gardens of Light music at its gift shops this year.
She also stressed that the Light and Music Extravaganza at the Good Zoo is "better than ever this year with new music, new choreography and more lights." The extravaganza takes place nightly on the zoo patio with more than 35,500 LED lights choreographed to holiday music.
The Winter Festival of Lights begins at dusk daily. It can be viewed Sunday through Thursday until 10 p.m. and Friday and Saturday until 11 p.m. A per car donation is requested and is valid for the entire festival season. Trolley tours are offered several times each night beginning at Wilson Lodge. For more information about Oglebay and the Winter Festival of Lights, call 800-624-6988 or 304-243-4000.