By Robb Murray
Free Press Staff Writer
MANKATO — On the question of whether the community likes the Kiwanis Holiday Lights display in Mankato’s Sibley Park, the verdict is in.
“It exceeded most everybody’s expectations,” said Kiwanis Club member Joe Meidl, when asked about the illuminated extravaganza at Sibley Park in Mankato.
Added Scott Wojcik, the lead organizer: “It went amazing. I don’t think our core group could be more happy with the turnout.”
Speaking of turnout, the debut weekend of the inaugural year of what organizers hope will be an annual event attracted roughly 5,000 cars. That’s 5,000 automobiles idling through a swarm of more than 1 million lights in all colors.
Some were set to music, some were strung across the roofs of animal barns. Some were in the shape of holiday iconic symbols such as Christmas trees or candy canes, some were strewn majestically through the boughs of the trees that populate the green space at Sibley Park.
For some, seeing the lights on opening weekend meant getting in line and waiting. At its peak, the line of cars to get into the park stretched all the way back to the Subway restaurant on Riverfront Drive.
“It makes you feel really good about the amount of time we put into this,” Wojcik said.
The Kiwanis Holiday Lights display has been in the works for nearly two years. It was bolstered by a Mankato Area Foundation donation of $50,000, and another sizable, but as-yet undisclosed, donation from CHS. About $100,000 has been raised so far.
The plan all along was to have 1 million LED lights in the Sibley Park trees, on the barn and play areas, and throughout displays on the lawn, and last weekend they achieved that goal.
Another goal was to collect food for area food shelves. On the first weekend, 2,300 pounds of food was collected for the ECHO Food Shelf in Mankato. Food was also collected for the food shelf in Fairmont, but organizers were unsure Monday how much.
Traffic patterns were clearly marked with road signs, but that didn’t stop some motorists from trying to sneak in at other park entries. In particular, cars were approaching the park from Mound Avenue near Pathstone Living. To prevent automotive anarchy, though, those entries were closed.
“It would be logistically a nightmare to start allowing cars to sneak in that way,” Wojcik said.
Both Meidl and Wojcik said there isn’t much they can do to improve the traffic situation. It’s simply a matter of demand.
“We were shuffling them through as quickly as we could,” Meidl said.
The lights are open for viewing 5-9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 5-10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through Dec. 31. Food and cash donations will be collected each night.