The Enchanted Land of Lights and Legends kicked off its 16th year at Pine Bluff Regional Park Tuesday night with a large crowd on hand to witness the official lighting ceremony.
Greg Gustek, Pine Bluff Festival Association executive director, welcomed around 100 people to the opening ceremony, including the Pine Bluff High School Marching Band, a female Santa Claus, and a black and tan dachshund named Tyson decked out in an elf outfit who became an instant television personality after KATV Channel 7 weatherman Ned Perme plucked the pup from his owner’s arms to serve as his sidekick during the live broadcast of the event by the ABC affiliate.
Donnie and Betty Massanelli served as the official light switch throwers.
“Betty is one of the founding board members of this light display and her husband Donnie spent many years working to set up these displays,” Gustek said.
“My pride in this is that Pine Bluff has something that nobody else has,” Betty Massanelli said. “Another one of our founding board members, Tom Agerton, said that with this light display, finally Pine Bluff has hit on something that nobody else has. We started this 16 years ago with almost no money. We were all volunteers and we made donations to keep the display going. This was all thanks to volunteers and donations. This town could do anything if you put good people together like that. This is our gift to everybody.”
“This year we have 220 displays in 166 locations,” Gustek said. “We keep adding to it every year. We have 1.2 miles of Christmas lights and it is the largest display of holiday lights in the state for the past six years. It is also one of the largest displays in the south.”
Gustek explained that in response to past years when severe traffic congestion was a regular occurrence at the end of the lighting ceremony on opening night, things were done differently for 2012.
“We had everyone park by the boat ramps and one of the trolley buses in the Pine Bluff Transit fleet is driving them around to the beginning of the display,” Gustek said. “Then after everyone walks through they will be right back at their vehicles.”
Gustek told the crowd that they were going to enjoy something special.
“You all who came out for the opening night are the only ones who will get the opportunity to walk through the display,” Gustek said. “This is the only time that will happen.”
The Enchanted Land of Lights and Legends will be open to the public daily between 6 and 9 p.m. through Dec. 31. Monetary donations are accepted but not required.