Winter struck Northwest Indiana just in time for the Winter Lights Festival at Sunset Hill Farm County Park. Cold weather does not have to mean slick streets and aching fingers. Saturday night was the beginning of a season of fantasy; the community debut of the holiday season.
Sunset Hill has shown us the bright side of the winter months for the last 15 years. Its roadways are decked with the finest light displays in the state. The tractor rides of the festival took guests on the same tour that will be open to the public every night until New Year’s Day.
Sandra Wagener boarded the wagon with her husband.
“Tonight is a good night for it,” she said. “It might be a bit cold, but that just makes the firepit warmer. And the air more crisp. They put on a good show here, and it’s things like that that make you forget how cold you are.”
The tractor drove around grinning elves hard at work. It revealed bright white carousels that seemed to spin. There were ancient dinosaurs, and blooming flowers, even soldiers standing guard at the entrance to the park.
People waved as the tractor rumbled by.
It passed the s’more pit, where visitors roasted marshmallows over an open flame.
Next door was Santa’s tent. He took visitors of all ages, so long as they had the patience to wait their turn. Craft tables marked the line to his throne, giving families a project to collaborate on. They made ornaments and snowflakes to decorate Santa’s tree.
“I love that this fest was designed for children,” said mother Anna Cross. Her sons took turns dashing sprinkles onto sugar cookies in the heated face painting tent. “It’s hard to tell them to wait when there is so much going on around them. They want to keep exploring. The way [the Winter Lights Festival] is set up embraces their energy. It lets them be excited about the holidays.”
They were determined to take the tractor-wagon tour next.
Its path wove around the back of the fest. Fireworks sparked the sky above the wagon, glowing shards of blue and white echoing off the buildings like a flash of lightning. The community paused as one to watch the series finale.
“It’s bittersweet,” said Portage resident Marie Smith. “The Winter Lights Festival is the first Christmas celebration I go to every year. The cocoa is delicious and the lights are always so creative. The fireworks mean the night is ending but they also mean the season is beginning.”
Porter County Parks and Recreation, with the help of many sponsors, is responsible for the festivities every year. “The main purpose of having this festival is to get people into the parks and enjoying them,” said Porter County Parks and Recreation Communications Director, Darlene Cohn. “We work all year to make events that are fun and enriching for children. It takes a lot of people to put on something like this, dozens of people from all over the community. We do what we can to make it a locally relevant event.”
The Winter Lights Display is open for public tours through the rest of the year. Sunset Hill Farm County Park is part of the community that never closes.