Winter Wonderland of Lights, a project of the Ashland Alliance (Chamber of Commerce), began its planning stage in 1988. Several of our major businesses supported the efforts with funding and provided numerous volunteers for the WWOL Committee. The City of Ashland provided the labor to set up and take down the displays and a storage area.
The Committee faced the task of planning the project for future growth — fundraising to purchase the first string of lights and displays to be offered by the committee for the viewing enjoyment of all the citizens of our region.
First, the committee had to educate the community on its mission: to provide holiday displays for the community to enjoy at no cost. A fundraising campaign began. The Committee was truly amazed at the interest shown in this project by area businesses, big and small, and the general public.
Today, our major businesses still contribute, but there are also as many individuals who contribute a substantial amount each year. After the fundraising, then displays have to be selected and purchased. The Committee carefully selects the vendors who provide “more bang for the buck.”
With the displays ordered, and fundraising underway, the committee then goes to work on placing the displays in strategic locations in Central Park and then comes the task of providing electricity to the areas.
Kentucky Power Company donated the time of several of their workers to assure the service was properly installed during the first few years. Many volunteer hours are spent sitting in a warehouse stringing lights and checking all the bulbs. Imagine doing that for over 350,000 lights at the beginning and now that number has more than doubled. It is truly a labor of love by the volunteers.
The City of Ashland donates many man-hours to erect the displays, and then throughout the lighting season, (the Monday week before Thanksgiving through January 1st), spot checking the displays to make sure everything is working properly.
In 1995, the WWOL Committee assumed the responsibility of organizing the annual Christmas Parade in downtown Ashland. The parade has increased two-fold since 1995 and is the second largest parade in the state of Kentucky.
When the parade was added to the Winter Wonderland of Lights Festival’s schedule, it was decided that there were not enough volunteers to do “Opening Night” on Monday evening and the Parade on Tuesday, but in 2003, the committee returned to its roots and scheduled its first “Opening Night” ceremony since 1995, on Monday evening the week preceding the parade. It was once again held at the Gazebo in Central Park with music and song presented by school and church choirs. “Coco the Clown”, 2003 Parade Grand Marshal, threw the switch to “Light the Lights” throughout the park and then the arrival of Santa Claus on a fire truck thrilled the children. Also, new to the festival in 2003 was the “Winter Wonderland Express” train rides (a miniature train) sponsored by Clear Channel Communications and Big Sandy Furniture.
In 2007 a scholarship Beauty Pageant was added to the festival’s events.
Through the years additional displays have been added.
In 2003 a Poinsettia Candle Extravaganza; fifty (50) snowflake pole decorations; and a Railroad Water Tower, built in house.
In 2004 a large animated Rocking Horse; an American Flag with starburst; an Elf feeding a Reindeer; Old Man Winter; and several of the favorites were refurbished.
In 2005, several of the large existing displays were beginning to look worn and tattered and had to be refurbished, but the community was accustomed to new displays being added each year. Through the sponsorship generosity of several individuals and businesses the new Jurassic Display was selected and was an immediate favorite of the children. Also purchased in 2005, by sponsors, were: The Jumping Dolphins and a Windmill. In 2006, the committee had several existing displays refurbished at a cost of $20,000. A “Small Town” scene was designed with the refurbished silhouette buildings, large trees and several new and existing displays; a large cross; a man and boy skating; a fireman and a policeman; carolers; and children sledding. The last piece, Raptor, was purchased to complete the Jurassic Display.
In 2007, approximately $32,000 was spent on refurbishment of existing displays and the purchase of numerous small and several large displays. Large displays included: Noah’s Ark; a replica of Ashland’s Central Fire Station (which was built in 1908); Elf and a Piggy Bank; and Raggedy Ann and Andy.
In 2008, displays purchased by sponsors include: a Jack in the Box; a Santa in Sleigh with 9 reindeer; an Elf trimming a Christmas Tree; Elf Stuffing a Stocking; Children Skating; and the largest display, a Toy Factory, all of which are animated. The Committee purchased several new pole displays for Winchester Avenue and had the Ferris Wheel and the park’s entrance arches refurbished. Total cost refurbished displays was approximately $40,000. Also, new for 2008 was the Community Christmas Card project.
In 2009, sponsors purchased 2 new displays (with LED lights) a Grist Mill, and Elves jumping over a Candle; 32 LED lit pole displays for Winchester and Carter Avenues; and a few small items for the park.
The emphasis for 2010 and 2011 was on basic display/electrical maintenance, and a “Go Green” campaign to re-light many of the displays with LED bulbs, which cost $1.15 each but last for an average of five years and reduce electrical energy use by as much as three fourths.
In 2011, 33 new pole displays were purchased for the downtown area, all with LED bulbs and 2 elves and a bi-plane display were purchased for the park with LED bulbs.
In 2012, new garland was purchased by a sponsor for Winchester Avenue and a new community Christmas tree topper. In an effort to have all LED pole displays, 36 were purchased for Winchester and Carter Avenues. An existing park display, “Peace on Earth Globe” was refurbished.
In 2013, one of the original displays the “Candy Factory” was completely refurbished and redesigned as a silhouette display and additional trees and pole displays were purchased and 37 pole displays refurbished.