You don’t have to ask the Winter Wonderland of Lights committee a second time. That is a sentiment they have been taking seriously since 1989 when the first display of lights was erected at Central Park in Ashland.
Marion Russell has been chairing this committee since 1997 and is as enthusiastic about it today as he was when he first started.
“This is going to be another good year,” Russell said. “But then every year is a good year. I really love the Christmas season, and that is why I do this. It’s why most of the committee members are so dedicated.”
That dedication is evident when the display takes life every year. Set in the beauty of Central Park, there are over 60 displays highlighting holiday magic with more than 800,000 lights. Whether walking through the displays or viewing while driving by, it is a sight to behold and can put even the most jaded person in the holiday spirit.
“Winter Wonderland of Lights is a truly magical display, something straight out of a Hallmark Christmas movie,” said Courtney Hensley, assistant director of Visit Ashland, the local tourism bureau. “It's a long-standing family tradition and an absolute must do for those who live in the region. There's just something so special about touring the park with loved ones and embracing the Christmas spirit that is on full display.”
Over the years, light displays have included a Poinsettia Candle Extravaganza, a Railroad Water Tower, an animated Rocking Horse, an American Flag with Starburst, an Elf Feeding a Reindeer, Old Man Winter, a Jurassic Display, the Jumping Dolphins, Noah’s Ark, a replica of Ashland’s Central Fire Station, Raggedy Ann and Andy, a Toy Factory, Children Skating, numerous Elf activities and, of course, Santa in His Sleigh.
To keep it fresh and to replace damaged or outdated pieces, new ones are often added. “We’re excited about our new display for this year,” Russell said. “It’s a larger one that depicts ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’.”
But there is more to the event than just the lights. Musical entertainment, train rides, children’s activities, and visits with Santa add to the festive atmosphere.
“A lot of people don’t know that we actually present the annual Christmas parade as well,” Russell said. “It’s always the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, which this year will be November 22, starting at 7 p.m., and is the kickoff for the season.”
Russell is quick to add that there are a lot of people and businesses involved in making the event happen. “We are actually a sub-committee of Ashland Alliance,” he explained, “so they are involved. The City of Ashland donates the labor of their employees who put up and take down the lights. The county offers support. There are gifts from local governmental agencies.”
And of course, the volunteers. “We just couldn’t do this without the dedication of our volunteers,” Russell said. “There is so much that goes into this. And it isn’t just a few months of work. We work year-round to plan, review displays for purchase, and to raise money.”
Winter Wonderland of Lights also plays a role in drawing tourists to the area. “WWOL is an important part of tourism because of the draw it brings from around the region,” Hensley explained. “We have families from all over the Tri-State area and beyond visit Ashland to tour the display. It's very important to us that we market the light display that makes our community and those in the surrounding area excited to visit and create memories here in Ashland.”
The event is free for the public to view and generally spans about six weeks. Opening ceremonies will take place on Monday, November 14 at 6 p.m. at the bandstand in Central Park. The event will close on January 1.
“I believe this really kicks off the Christmas season for our community,” Hensley said. “Once the lights are turned on it's like, ok it's game time!”
What motivates everyone to give so much of their time and effort? “There is definitely a thrill of accomplishment when all the lights are first turned on,” Russell said. “But the real joy is in seeing the faces of the kids. It is so rewarding to see how excited they get. They are usually having so much fun they don’t want to leave.”
Winter Wonderland of Lights
2022 Schedule of Events
Opening Night Ceremony
Monday, November 14, 6 p.m.
Central Park Bandstand
November 14, 2022, thru January 1, 2023
Dusk-10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday
Dusk-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Central Park and Downtown Ashland
Winter Wonderland Express Train Rides
November 18-20; 25-27; December 2-4; 9-11;
December 16-20, 6-9 p.m.
Central Park & 22nd Street
$3 per person
Express Train Ride with Santa
December 19 and 20
Annual Christmas Parade
Tuesday, November 22, 7 p.m.
Theme: “Christmas Around the World”
Visits with Santa
November 18-20; 25-27; December 2-4; 9-11;
December 16-18, 6-9 p.m.
Central Park Log House
You may take your own pictures.
Sponsored by Jeff and Donna Suttle
Home and Business Decorating Contests
Application Deadline: December 9
Judging: December 12-21
Karaoke and Pizza with Santa
Thursday, December 8, 6-8 p.m.
Transportation Center, 99 15th Street
Children K-6th grade
Sponsored by Ashland Bus System
For more information
Marion Russell: 606.923.1767