by Cori Hilsgen
Once again, the lights around Lake Francis will sparkle and glimmer to delight young and old alike during the holiday season.
The second annual Country Lights Festival will begin Saturday, Dec. 1, and continue throughout the rest of the month.
About 75,000-100,000 lights, many more than were used last year, will be on every evening during December except Thursday, Dec. 6, during the Angel of Hope Candlelight Vigil. (See related story on back page.)
Some new things added this year include two large igloos, eight 20-foot trees, and a 20- by 20-foot Warming Lodge that organizers hope will make everyone feel at home when they step inside to enjoy the warmth and ambiance. Plans also include adding some seating around the bonfires to give visitors a place to enjoy their hot chocolate.
Organizer Leah McGuire said they “look forward to growing the annual event as a giveback to the local community.”
• Senior Night 5-7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 5
• S’more Night with the Sartell firefighters Friday, Dec. 7
• Visit with “Santa” on Saturday, Dec. 8,
• Hot dogs will be served Friday, Dec. 14
• Horse-drawn trolley rides will be given Saturday, Dec. 15, around the lighted path, starting at the entrance and dropping off at the new Warming Lodge,
• Senior Night Thursday, 5-7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 20,
• Reindeer and Elf night, 5-7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 21.
An Angel of Hope Vigil will be Thursday, Dec. 6. The lights are typically off from 6:45-7:30 p.m. during the vigil.
All events are 5-7 p.m. on weekends and include hot chocolate and cookies, music by Spirit 92.9, bonfires and more. The Girl Scouts donated more than 30,000 cookies for the events.
The light displays will be on more than 30 acres at Lake Francis Park. Lights will turn on when the city of Sartell’s street lights turn on at dusk and stay on until dawn every day of the week.
The idea for the festival is the brainstorm of Chip Schwarzentraub, agency manager of Country Financial. He had previously attended the Bentleyville Tour of Lights festival in Duluth with his family and thought it would be a great idea to bring the same concept to Sartell.
Schwarzentraub’s co-workers who volunteered to help with the event include Bill Corcoran, financial representative; Leah McGuire, administrative office assistant; and others with the company.
Mcguire said they would like to thank the five title sponsors: Amy Legatt Group (Re/Max Results), Blue Line, Country Financial, Granite Logistics and Minnesota Lighting and Fireplace for believing in their vision and helping them fund the event.
“We want to thank the community and all of our sponsors for their support in our vision,” McGuire said. “This year, in addition to adding lights, we are excited to bring more free festivities to the community. We look forward to growing this annual event year after year.”
Lake Francis Park is on Pinecone Road within walking distance to the Sartell Community Center, which is at 850 19th St. S., Sartell.
Parking is available at the Sartell Community Center and surrounding streets if needed. Visitors are requested not to park at the Chateau Waters senior apartment complex, which is located next to the park.
The Angel of Hope night is not part of the festival and the lights will be off during the vigil.
The Country Lights Festival events are free, but donations will be accepted during December or at both Sartell Coborn’s locations now through Dec. 31.
The two Senior Nights are new this year and are sponsored by Edgewood in Sartell. They are not held during the weekends because seniors will be driven around the path in vehicles.
Edgewood Sales and Marketing Director Sue Carlson said vans will drive spectators around Lake Francis. The Sartell Community Center will be open both nights and cocoa and cookies will be available.
“This is a great way for our Sartell and surrounding communities’ senior population and their families to see the Country Lights Festival without having to walk around the lake,” she said.
Visitors are encouraged to dress according to the weather.
Country Lights Festival organizers have created a nonprofit to help bring the community together for this lights festival.
To stay up-to-date on activities and other additional information, follow the Country Lights Festival Facebook Page or visit countrylightsfestival.org.
Author: Cori Hilsgen
Hilsgen is a contributing reporter for the Newsleaders. The central Minnesota native is a wife, mother and grandmother. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Organizational Management and Communication from Concordia University – St. Paul, MN and enjoys learning about and sharing other people’s stories through the pages of the Newsleaders.