story and photos by Julie Bagley
With a slight chill in the air Saturday night (Nov. 17) and children gathered around the downtown Fayetteville square, Mayor Lioneld Jordan flipped the switch to turn on The Lights of the Ozarks this season.
As the sun set, hundreds of eager children and excited parents sat and stood around the perimeter of the square. Some bought flashing strobe lights while other snacked on vendor food. In the distance you could see the floats and vehicles line-up for the parade route.
Decked out in holiday red, Mayor Lioneld Jordan was surrounded by children in the middle of the parade route on Mountain Street as he asked the audience if they were ready for the holiday season. As one might imagine, the children answered with a high-pitched, “Yes!” With that, the mayor counted to the three with the help of everyone and flipped the switch to turn on the lights and officially kick-off the parade.
More than 450,000 lights decorated the downtown square. It took Fayetteville Parks and Recreation workers more than 2,000 hours to string the lights. They began the monumental task the day after Halloween.
Fayetteville police on decorated motorcycles ushered in the parade floats. More than a dozen slowly circled the square, some ranging from churches, to radio stations, to dog sitters, to the local Girl Scouts.
The Lights of the Ozarks parade is organized by the University of Arkansas Hospitality Management students with support from the Fayetteville Visitors Bureau. The Fayetteville Advertising & Promotion Commission coordinates all other events during the festival.
The festivities don’t end with the parade. Lines quickly formed as children wanted their picture taken with Santa at the Fayetteville Visitor’s Bureau. If you missed the pageantry Friday night, there is still plenty of holiday cheer every night. There are carriage, camel and pony rides – weather permitting. Santa and his reindeer will also be on the square every night from 6 to 9 p.m. until Dec. 23.
Also returning this year is “A County Fair Christmas,” held at the Washington County Fairgrounds. It’s billed as a drive-through holiday light spectacular. The lights will be on display each Friday, Saturday and Sunday from Nov. 24 to Dec. 22. The display will be open from 6 to 9 p.m. and will cost $5 a car.