Let There be Light
Christmas program bigger each year
It's been said that it takes a village to raise a child, but Hot Springs Parks and Trails Director Jean Wallace says it takes a community to put up a holiday lighting display. With the Christmas season fast approaching, the Parks and Trails Department began preparing its many displays in October in order to have everything in place by Nov. 23 when the switch will be thrown at the annual Chili Cook-off to light up the downtown area.
“The animated tree in Hill Wheatley Plaza may be the only thing left to install, but by Nov. 20, we'll be completely finished with Arlington Lawn,” Wallace said, referring to the animated lighted trees that have graced the Hot Springs National Park property for a number of years.
This year, the trees will be erected more toward the middle of the lawn area where they will be more visible from Central Avenue, Wallace said.
“This year, we're going to be retrofitting all of the Arlington Lawn Christmas trees from incandescent bulbs to LED lights and we'll be moving the display further south to where it will be more in the middle of the lawn. Being on the north end was driven by the fact that was where the electrical source is and we couldn't run the length of extension cords we needed from the north end. But with LED lights we can because they draw so much less electricity,” she said.
Wallace said the city is in the fourth year of a five-year holiday lighting display improvement plan, which has provided several new elements over the past few years, such as the large cascading fountains in Hill Wheatley Plaza and at the intersection of Central, Whittington, and Park avenues, the large animated tree that was added last year in Hill Wheatley Plaza, along with light spheres hung from trees in the plaza and in Adair Park.
“And we've added more lights to the parking garage, with more snow birds and wreaths. And we're adding more snow tubes which look like snow dripping from the trees in several areas of Exchange Street,” she said.
Wallace said the Arlington Lawn display takes most of the available funds, but the Downtown Merchants Association has donated $5,000 to the project each of the last four years, and Visit Hot Springs, as well as the city of Hot Springs, has donated $10,000 a year, as part of the five-year plan.
“There is a total of $25,000 a year spread among those partners, but the city also budgets another $5,000 in the operations budget for miscellaneous items like wire clips, extra extension cords, and little odds and ends that we need,” she said.
Suzanne Tucker, owner of Historic District Antiques, said the money donated by the Downtown Merchants Association comes for the annual Chili Cook-off, which is the group's only fundraiser.
“This year will be lucky 13 for us and the cookoff will be held on Nov. 23 in the Exchange Street Parking Plaza,” Tucker said.
Individuals or groups entering the cook-off have to prepare at least 10 gallons of chili as their entry fee, and the chili can be traditional or nontraditional.
“We encourage competitors to compete in both areas, and all the money raised is used for Christmas lighting in the downtown area,” Tucker said.
She said the contest last year was the best so far and all the chili was sold, along with all the beer.
“We ran out of everything. That's why we're asking everyone to compete in both categories. We usually have room for 20 to 22 competitors, and they really have to make 10 gallons of chili. Some will enter both categories, which we strongly encourage,” she said.
“We did really well last year, but we could have done better if we'd had more chili and beer, but we ran out of both,” Tucker said.
Tucker said judging of the chili will begin at 4 p.m. and the event will open to the public at 4:30 p.m. Chili will cost $5 per bowl, with water and soft drinks at $1 each. Beer will be $3, she said.