Mayor Debe Hollingsworth and Jefferson County Judge Dutch King were among those who came out Tuesday night to Pine Bluff Regional Park as the Enchanted Land of Lights & Legends holiday light display launched its 17th season.
Ned Perme of Channel 7 broadcast the event via live telecast.
The Pine Bluff Festival Association, a non-profit organization, owns and operates the festival. Retired board member Sue Trulock was the official switch operator for the 1.3 miles of holiday lights featuring 230 displays and 171 locations.
According to the executive director of the association, Greg Gustek, the festival has grown from being the largest holiday lights drive-through display in Arkansas to the largest in the South.
“It just gets bigger and bigger,” Gustek said. “Last year we broke all the records.”
Gustek says last year’s attendance exceeded 110,000 visitors; last year’s event also exceeded the records for donations, sponsors and number of displays. Lots of work, hours and manpower are involved to make the festival a reality. Gustek said planning and construction starts each year on Oct. 1.
Pine Bluff High School’s marching band led an enthusiastic crowd of roughly 60 people through the light display Tuesday night. Only those attending the first night had a one-time opportunity to walk through and get an up-close look.
Highlights of the festival include the traditional commemorative ornament — this year’s honors the 30th anniversary of the Cotton Belt Railroad Historical Society. But Gustek said visitors can also look forward to an unexpected and undisclosed surprise.
“We’re not telling anybody what it is, they have to come and drive through to see it,” Gustek said.
For those who like hints, he said the surprise is a display in honor of a famous movie that celebrates its 75th anniversary this year.
The festival opens each year on the third Tuesday of November and closes on Dec.r 31. Hours are 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. There is no admission fee, but donations are accepted.