Hundreds of thousands of colored lights are adorning trees, bushes, sidewalks and sculptures at Azalea Park for the 15th annual Nature’s Coastal Holiday show open nightly through Christmas Eve.
The three-week-long show, one of the largest light displays on the Oregon Coast, is scheduled to light the park from 5 to 9 every evening. Admission is $1. Children 12 and younger are admitted free. Cookies and hot apple cider are served at the Snack Shack. The show usually attracts thousands of visitors.
On Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Dec. 22, 23 and 24, Santa will make an appearance at the park.
Dozens of volunteers transformed the city park into a holiday wonderland of toy soldiers, sculpted wildlife figures, candy canes, elk, sea creatures, flowers and more.
Nature’s Coastal Holiday began in 1997 with 50,000 lights; then quickly grew to nearly a quarter of a million. It is now approaching half a million lights, making it one of the biggest light shows on the Oregon Coast. Most of the lights and related structures were paid for by gate fees, donations and sponsorships by dozens of local businesses.
Nature’s Coastal Holidays was started in 1997 by Keith Pepper to bring to Brookings, the same beautiful displays seen in other communities.
The first year saw over 7,000 people visit the display and in 1999, 14,500 people came through the gates.
“We have people from all over the world coming to see the lights,” said Dave Kitchen, chairman of the event.
Kitchen said bad weather is “our worst competition and for the last couple of years, it has been a major factor in a reduction of visitors.”
Last year, he said, there were more than 9,700 visitors “and we all know what kind of season that was,.”
Kitchen said the influx of visitors “shop in our town, stay in our motels and buy fuel to continue on their way. These lights mean a lot to the economy of the Brookings-Harbor area.
In 2000, Phil and Olivia Abbott took over the leadership of the lights and gathered a small army of volunteers to help decorate the park and sell tickets.
In 2006, because of health reasons, the Abbotts step down and a new, separate board was formed to continue the project. Olivia passed away in 2007 and the organization purchased an American Flag display in her memory.
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In 2010, then chairman of the board Don Tilton passed away on Thanksgiving Day. A new lamplighter display was purchased and is being displayed in his memory this year.
The Nature’s Coastal Holiday organization consist of members of the Brookings-Harbor Chamber of Commerce, Brookings Harbor Rotary, the city of Brookings and the Lion’s Club.
Each of these groups is responsible for rounding up volunteers to decorate the park, Kitchen said.
The current board members are Moira Fossum, Pam Brown, Tim and Diane Retke, Tom Goodman, Pam and Steve Derita, Curtis Williams, Brian Tillung, Sonya Billington and Kitchen.
“This year we started planning early and started decorating on Nov. 19, and finished by Nov. 30 in order to light the park on Dec. 3,” he said.
Each night, different local businesses and organizations volunteer to take tickets and pass out cider and cookies. In return for their service, the board gives $1 to $3 dollars per volunteer man hour to these groups, to give to a charity of their choice. Annually, about 70 percent of the groups donate the money back to Nature’s Coastal Holidays, Kitchen said.
Different businesses and citizens sponsor a tree or bush, paying $100 the first year and $50 dollars for each year after. Some businesses and people have sponsored sculptures. These sculptures are paid for by the sponsor and maintained by a yearly fee established by the board, Kitchen said.
“We receive around $5,000 each year from sponsors,” he said. “We also sell tickets to the motels for them to give away to their guests.”
According to Kitchen, the money raised pays to:
•Buy cookies, hot chocolate and cider,
•Pay for the electric to run the lights,
•Replace lights and equipment,
•Pay Curry Transfer and Recycling for dumpsters,
•Donate to the City of Brookings,
“We donated money to pay for the underground electric,” Kitchen said. “Two years ago, we donated money to help the city purchase security cameras.”