UPPER MARLBORO – Prince George’s County residents can now drive through Watkins Regional Park to view the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission’s (M-NCPPC) 29th annual Winter Festival of Lights. This Winter Festival of Lights officially opened on Friday, Nov. 27 and will remain open through January 1 from 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Displays […]
UPPER MARLBORO – Prince George’s County residents can now drive through Watkins Regional Park to view the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission’s (M-NCPPC) 29th annual Winter Festival of Lights.
This Winter Festival of Lights officially opened on Friday, Nov. 27 and will remain open through January 1 from 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Displays are up around the 2.5-mile stretch around the picnic area, the green area, and back. The light show features more than one million twinkling lights.
“Our big surprise is that we have a brand new animated tree,” said Rendall Steward, coordinator of setup of the Watkins Regional Park Festival of Lights. “We have the largest tree in the area right now. Previously it just lit up, but now it is synchronized so it plays different combinations of music as it lights up. It is wonderful and amazing.”
The festival of lights usually receives between 20,000 and 25,000 visitors throughout the time it is open to the public. Visitors will be able to roll down their windows and hear the music playing from the animated tree.
“A lot of people are surprised and amazed at the amount of lights,” Steward said.
Steward and ten other full-time staff members started setting up for the light festival the first day after the Kinderfest event, which is the second week in September, and each year is a different theme.
Kathy Garrity, program superintendent at The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission Central Area Operations/Watkins Regional Park said West Virginia had one of the first light shows. The Prince George’s County Department of Parks and Recreation then decided to bring their own show to the center of the county at Watkins Regional Park.
“It was basic back then because they didn’t have many companies that did the lights and 29 years later we have well over a million lights,” Garrity said. “Every year the tree keeps getting bigger and we’re hoping we can make it even bigger next year since the tree is really the highlight. Also, a couple of years ago we bought some fairytale themed lights like Rapunzel and Peter and the wolf. People really look forward to it.
“We are also the cheapest light festival around. We were free for many years and then in 2001, we decided we needed funds to keep it going at the quality we wanted, so we started charging.”
The admission fee is $5 for residents driving a car or van, $10 if they are riding in a mini-bus or limo containing 13 to 24 passengers, and $15 for those traveling by bus with 25 or more passengers. Those who are planning to visit the light show up to three times can purchase a $25 multi-visit pass that is transferable for cars and vans.
“We always get positive reviews because everything here at the park is the most wonderful, magical place in the whole county,” Steward said. “It is a family destination for everyone.”
The park’s brand new “imagination playground” with a Wizard of Oz theme was recently finished in the summer, so the park’s staff placed 16 new Wizard of Oz themed light displays around the playground area and on the street.
“Gas is a little cheaper now and people are looking for those holiday traditions with their kids,” Garrity said. “We found a lot of people will say ‘I came as a child and now I’m bringing my children’ or ‘I brought my children and now I’m bringing my grandchildren.’ This really is a family tradition for the county and beyond.”
The light festival will have two free days, one on Christmas Day and the other is Military Appreciation Day on Dec. 7 to honor veterans and active people who serve in the military. The M-NCPPC will also be collecting canned goods and non-perishable items at the festival, which will be donated to local food banks. They also partner with the local sheriff’s department to feed many homeless families in the county.