Every year for the past 25 years, Sar-Ko-Par Trails Park lights up for the holiday season.
Jeff Carlson, parks and recreation facility maintenance supervisor, said his crew decorates 80 to 90 trees in the park with dozens and dozens of stringed lights. Some of the trees are pretty large, about 70 feet tall, so they require tall lifts to hang up the lights.
And all of the lights are different: traditional C9 and C7 bulbs and modern LED, traditional Christmas colors of red and green and unique colors from all over the rainbow.
“There’s a big oak tree out here in the park that’s about 70 foot tall, and it has close to 600 lights just on that one tree,” he said. “It’s quite a few lights scattered throughout the park. Lots of different colors; we try to mix and match, we try to change some around every year so it doesn’t look exactly the same.”
Carlson’s light-hanging crew has a diverse range of experience hanging lights for the city; some have been at it for two decades, while others are new to the team. He encourages them all to think creatively on how they want each tree in the park to look.
Some of the trees have the “snow cone” look, while others have lights that criss-cross or up and down the branches. Some trees have more than one color, and others change colors two or three times (a new feature this year).
“I encourage that individualism so the trees are not all uniform,” he said. “There’s lots of different colors and flavors out there, so it’s not all the same. I just try to encourage the guys to be different. It gives lots of diversity to the park, with the lights reflecting off of the lake.”
Lights at Sar-Ko-Par make up about half of the lights Lenexa staff puts up each year. Carlson said many lights are strung up on the Lenexa Rec Center and other parts of the city, a rough total of 212 trees and 13 miles of lights and 75,000 light bulbs.
The city’s lighting traditions began with a few lights in the older part of town. Carlson said those traditions coincided with the city’s dance recital.
“We’d decorate the buildings in that area, but I wanted to get it going at Sar-Ko,” Carlson said. “People could actually walk around the lights and be with the lights, underneath the lights and see them reflect off the lake.”
This year, staff started hanging up lights in the park during the first week of October for the city’s Enchanted Forest programs. Now, “we’re in full swing,” with about a dozen staff dedicating three to four full weeks just to complete decorations in time for the holidays, Carlson said.
It’s not just hanging the lights; staff also handles proper storage and hours of testing and replacing broken bulbs and strings, which get damaged by the elements and a few squirrels in a chewing mood. When it’s all said and done, Carlson’s crew probably spends roughly 200 to 300 hours of manpower on the project.
It will be a beautiful sight. Lenexa staff turns the lights at 6 p.m. Nov. 30 in a special lighting ceremony with carolers, a countdown and a visit from Santa Claus. The lights will stay on until Jan. 13.