Tunnel of Lights draws more than 1,000

Deer, geese, swans and ducks are only a few of the many scenes illustrated in lights at the Marion County Park and Lake this holiday season.

For almost a decade, the Christmas Tunnel of Lights, which has become a tradition at Marion County Park and Lake, continues to grow and improve.

Richard Schwartz, one of the original organizers, said he and wife Marg first saw a tunnel of lights done when they lived in Florida.

?One of the streets had trees that went over on both sides,? he said.

After seeing it, he said they both thought it would be fun to replicate the display if the opportunity ever presented itself.

?That was about 15 to 20 years ago,? he said.

When the Schwartzes moved to Marion, he said they spotted a similar place with trees going over on both sides of the street.

?We figured it would be a good place to get (our neighbors) interested in the idea,? he said.

Incorporating the help of a few other nearby residents, Schwartz and his wife set up a meeting to talk about the idea.

Thousands of twinkling lights forming a tunnel, along with an array of Christmas art and characters, are making the season brighter at Marion County Park and Lake. For almost a decade, lake residents continue adding more holiday cheer for the enjoyment of everyone.The Tunnel of Lights goes alongside Lee and Diane Leiker?s home, he said.

?It is a little narrow road,? Richard said, ?and on the other side of it is Tom and Chris Neff?s house.?

Several families decided to try it, and over the years, ?it just about got out of hand,? he said.

Seasonal music, hot chocolate, popcorn and a chance to visit Santa and Mrs. Claus are now permanent features, in addition to the tunnel display.

It?s hard to say how many twinkling lights greet visitors every year, and Richard said he couldn?t even guess.

?The tunnel is about 50 to 75 yards long with the trees meeting on both sides and at the top,? he said.

About one to two months before the tunnel of lights go up, Richard said, a group of neighbors begin to meet.

?Our first meeting is to make sure everyone still wants to do the light display, because we had this thought that we might be overdoing it and should try to do it every other year,? he said.

The concensus, though, is that it is too much fun not to do it every year, he said.

The original families involved in the project included the Schwartzes, Lei?kers, Neffs, Ken and Sonny Christensen, Bill and Vicki Kaempfe, Howard and Carolyn Mitchell, Ron and Kathy Beeton and Jim Wyatt.

Over the next few years, other residents joined in, including Jessica Laurin, Tracy and Geraldine Hett, Jose and Mary Almaguer, Delmar and Nadine Iseli, who helped direct traffic and make cocoa.

In addition to those involved in the light project, Pete and Teeney Williams have a beautiful 30- to 35-foot tree they decorate each year, Marjorie said.

Gordan and Judy Pendergraft are another couple who have Rudolph and the other reindeer going across the lake.

?It is really something to see,? she said. ?We may not be like Wichita with enormous displays, but people that come here are really impressed.?

Although the tunnel of lights will continue to be lit throughout the Christmas season, this year?s kickoff on Dec. 1 saw more than 250 cars going through the area and nearly 1,000 people visiting.

?This was about an average year,? he said, ?probably because it came so quickly after Thanksgiving, but still it was a good (turnout).?

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