WHEELING, W.Va. — The thousands who travel to experience the Winter Festival of Lights at Oglebay Park each year likely will enjoy the rainbow tunnel near Schenk Lake, which is the newest feature for the 30th annual spectacular.
The festival officially kicked off Thursday during a special ceremony at Wilson Lodge, hosted by Wheeling park commissioners Sue Seibert Farnsworth, Wilbur S. Jones Jr., Joan Stamp and Dr. Donald H. Hofreuter. Commission President and CEO Doug Dalby also was on hand.
Stuart Bloch, executive vice president of the Wheeling-based Hazlett, Burt & Watson Inc. investment firm, flipped the switch to officially begin the season at the West Spa patio ceremony. The commission chose Bloch for his contributions to the Wheeling Park golf course.
“The festival brings a tremendous amount of people to the park in the winter, a slow time for the park 30 years ago,” Bloch said. “It started out with 10 or 15 lights, and the fact that it has lasted this long is a real testament to park workers and their imaginations working to keep it fresh.”
The holiday season is fondly known for shopping, warm drinks, and the often daunting task of adorning homes with festive lights. For the last three decades, Oglebay technicians have prepared the expansive light attraction as a gift for all who attend.
Dalby said the festival makes a positive impact on not only the park, but also in the surrounding community.
“The next two months will be the busiest of the year for the park, causing a spin-off in the community,” Dalby said. “Each year, people buy gasoline, eat at restaurants and stay overnight locally due to festival traffic.”
New to the festival this year is a third lighted tunnel. The display, located near Schenk Lake, features color-alternating rainbow lights. Dalby said the idea for the display was created after visitors from recent years mentioned lighted tunnels as their favorite attractions in customer surveys.
Oglebay spokeswoman Caren Knoyer said the lights used in each display are LED, making the festival more cost and energy efficient.
“LED saves the park money and it’s also better for the environment,” Knoyer said. “When people see these beautiful areas, they might make plans to return later in the year, making the festival a great economical tool for the Ohio Valley.”
Hofreuter said the festival allows travelers to see the tourist attractions Wheeling offers.
“Wheeling is a well-kept secret,” Hofreuter said. “This event draws people from across the country to this beautiful place, and is a lovely attraction for those who live near the park.”
The 30th annual Winter Festival of Lights is open through Jan. 5. It begins at dusk and lasts until 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and until 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
There is no admission fee, though a donation is requested.