0

Chehaw aglow with Christmas lights (PHOTO GALLERY TOUR)

Chehaw will welcome Santa and collect for Toys for Tots this weekend

This sign visible from Philema Road invites visitors to Chehaw’s Festival of Lights being held at the park this month. (Staff Photo: Brad McEwen)

This sign visible from Philema Road invites visitors to Chehaw’s Festival of Lights being held at the park this month. (Staff Photo: Brad McEwen)

ALBANY — It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas as Chehaw has once again been transformed into a winter wonderland with the park’s annual Festival of Lights.

In what has become an area holiday staple, visitors are invited to take a car ride through the park to see the various Christmas themed light displays.

“It’s a lot of fun,” said Chehaw Public Relations Coordinator Morgan Seegmueller. “We’ve been doing it for years and it’s really grown.”

photo

Chehaw's annual Festival of Lights Christmas display will be going on nightly 6 p.m.-9 p.m. through Dec. 29, with the exception of Christmas Day when the park will be closed. (Staff Photo: Brad McEwen)

According to Seegmueller, the park’s maintenance staff has dedicated countless hours throughout the year to build more than 400 light displays stationed throughout the park.

“Everything you see on the grounds was done by our maintenance staff,” Seegmueller said. “We start around Thanksgiving putting the lights up, but we spend nearly all year making them.”

photo

One of the themes this year at Chehaw's Festival of Lights is the Twelve days of Christmas. Based on the popular Christmas carol the park has a light display depicting each day. (Staff Photo: Brad McEwen)

Seegmueller said for many years the lights were done by an outside company, but park officials decided three years ago to handle everything in house to cut down on the expense. This year marks the third year the park has used its own light displays, which have increased in both size and number.

photo

This display of a train is one of 400 light displays at Chehaw's Festival of Lights. (Staff Photo: Brad McEwen)

The Festival of Lights runs from 6 p.m.-9 p.m. through Dec. 24 and Dec. 26-29. Chehaw is closed Christmas Day.

Starting this weekend, visitors to the Festival of Lights will also get a special treat as Santa and Mrs. Claus will be visting the park on Friday and Saturday nights and again Dec. 18-23.

Chehaw representatives are encouraging children of all ages to come spend some time with Santa free of charge. There will be a photographer on-site for anyone who wants to have a picture with made with Santa for a small charge.

photo

These bright red monkeys are just a small part of this year's Festival of Lights display at Chehaw. (Staff Photo: Brad McEwen)

In addition to visiting with Santa, children will also be able to enjoy a rarity in south Georgia — snow.

“We’re going to have a snow pit this year,” Seegmueller said. “While kids are waiting, they can play in real snow. I’m excited to see that.”

Seegmueller also said that along with the snow pit and visits with Santa, until Dec. 19 the park is also serving as a drop-off location for Toys for Tots.

Visitors wanting to help the cause are invited to bring an unwrapped children’s toy that will be given to less fortunate children. All those who donate a toy will be given a free ride on the Wiregrass Express.

“Chewhaw has partnered with the Albany Marine Corps Logistics Base and Toys for Tots as an official gift drop-off location,” Seegmueller said. “Chehaw hopes to aid Toys for Tots in its goal of delivering, through a new toy at Christmas, a message of hope to less fortunate children.”

The train ride lasts approximately 20 minutes and takes riders through parts of the park and past light displays that are not accessible by automobile. The cost for the train ride for those who don’t bring a toy donation is $3.

“To see all of the lights you will need to ride the train,” said Seegmueller. “There are quite a bit of lights that wind through the forest and can only be seen during the train ride.”

The cost for entrance to the Festival of Lights is $15 per car for non-members and $12 per car for members. Proceeds from the car and rides through the light displays go to benefit the park throughout the year.

“The Festival of Lights serves multiple purposes,” Seegmueller said. “Not only does it raise funds that enable the Park to continue its mission of conservation, preservation, and education, but it allows people from all over the region to experience the holidays in a way that they wouldn’t be able to otherwise. People not only visit from areas like Albany and Leesburg, but guests come from all over Georgia, Florida, and Alabama which helps bring tourism dollars into the community.”

Chehaw is located at 105 Chehaw Park Road in Albany.