By DON GLYNN
Niagara Gazette — Several business and civic groups are combining efforts to stage the Holiday Lights of Niagara Trail that will feature more than 60 illuminated displays in Hyde Park and around the city. The event opens Nov. 21 and runs through December.
In addition, the event organizers said area business owners along Pine Avenue, from Hyde Park Boulevard to Main Street, and along Third Street to the Holiday Market on Old Falls Street, have been urged to decorate their store fronts to create an inviting atmosphere for families.
Free carriage rides will be offered in Hyde Park, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., each Thursday, from Nov. 29 to Dec. 27. Rides also are scheduled on Fridays on Old Falls Street (at the same hours) from Nov. 23 to Dec. 28.
On opening night (Nov. 21) at Sal Maglie Stadium in Hyde Park, the 5:30 p.m. program will include the Step and Time Dance group, a local chorus, free coffee and hot chocolate. Melissa Holmes, an anchor and reporter for WGRZ-TV (Ch. 2) will be the mistress of ceremonies for the kick-off. Mayor Paul A. Dyster and United Way of Greater Niagara President Carol Houwaart-Diez will flip the switch to light up the displays, followed by a fireworks display.
"As the light displays turn on and the faces of the children light up, you'll see the spirit of community that we enjoy in Niagara county and in Western New York, and just how magical this time of the year can be," Houwaart-Diez said.
"We're excited about this and committed to getting more people downtown during the holiday season," Houwaart-Diez said. When the original "A Festival of Lights" shutdown operations in 2002, the community offered a scaled-down event called "The Holiday Lights of Niagara," based in Hyde Park.
Subsequently the United Way of Niagara helped coordinate "The Holiday Lights of Niagara Trail," promoting what was envisioned as illuminated displays stretching from Hyde Park Boulevard, along Pine Avenue, and ending on Old Falls Street, close to the state park entrance. For a number of reasons, including a problem securing sufficient power at some designated points, the display area was downsized. For 2012, however, lights will be featured again in front of the Niagara Arts and Cultural Center, at Schoellkopf Park off Pine Avenue, adjacent to Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center and along Old Falls Street.
This year's event is chaired by Jerald Wolfgang, chairman of the United Way of Niagara board; Dr. James Klyczek, president of Niagara County Community College; and City Council Chairman Sam Fruscione.
In addition to participating sponsors, the celebration is presented by the United Way, the city of Niagara Falls, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 237 and WGRZ-TV.
Wolfgang helped coordinate the Festival of Lights that drew countless thousands of visitors to downtown Niagara Falls for some 20 years before it ended in 2001. He also chaired the annual Christmas Parade in the South End on the opening festival weekend. He recalled Wednesday that after the popular event ended, a drive-though festival was staged in Oppenheim Park, Wheatfield, from 2004 to 2007 before it was relocated to Hyde Park.
Additional information about the 2012 Holiday Lights of Niagara Trail can be found online at www.uwgn.org, or by calling (716) 216-4582