A Must-see Christmas Destination For All of Utah
In an open field at Draper Park, the grand willow tree is an illuminated spectacle of Christmas joy and hope in December. This imposing showpiece and the numerous lighting displays throughout the city are making Draper a must-see destination during the holidays.
The willow tree first made its Christmas debut in 2008 when the parks department used colored flood lights to illuminate it. However, it was not very impressive, according to Steve Linde, the parks director. Fast forward one year, and an evolution in extravagant lighting began to take shape when the city decided to light up the willow tree like it belonged on Temple Square, with strands adorning each branch of the large, billowing tree. Every year got better, culminating in the addition of strobe lights last year that create an awesome effect. Over 65,000 lights decorate the willow tree, according to Brite Nites, the company that has installed the lights for the city for the past couple of years and will once again be doing it for 2015. Not only will Draper Park receive a VIP lighting treatment, but several roundabouts, the bridge, and the Draper Historic Park will also be decked out in the shimmer and shine.
“The city council provides a certain amount of funding and owns all of the lights so we can expand easily without spending a lot of money. The City Council has a regular line item that they approve for Christmas decor,” says Linde. Without spending too much, the city has maximized their resources with LED lighting that uses a lot less electricity and adding new lights incrementally to their stockpile. This year Draper will wrap another large tree that hovers over the swing sets in the playground area. The lights come on at dusk and stay on until midnight. Then they relight from 5-7 a.m. every morning unless dampness is foreseen. In that case, the parks director keeps the lights on through the night, so that they do not short out.
The extensive lighting is a huge hit for the community and word is getting out due to social media platforms and old-fashioned word of mouth. The city has even received inquiries from around the country. “This is unique and it has brought a lot of people to Draper,” notes Rhett Ogden, the Parks and Recreation director. “Businesses like it because they bring a lot of people from out of town. And it is always at dinnertime that they show up.”
“It does make you just kind of soak in the spirit. I really do love it. We are always dragging the kids and grandkids over there. Sometimes we go sleigh on the hill. It is so cool. In fact we have friends from St. George and other far places who ask us about the lights and want to come see them. Everybody is always looking for some place to take their family and kids that is not expensive.” says long time resident Renee VanAmen.
The willow tree, also known as the Tree of Lights, the Tree of Life, and even the big white tree, is becoming a treasured landmark for the community. Draper resident Shawna Borg shared this precious story about her son Owen.
“When he was 9 years old, he was sick a lot (nothing too serious) during the winter and the only way he would say it would make him feel better was if I took him to the big white tree. I have a picture of all of my boys running out to the big white tree because he was convinced if he went out and got close to the tree it would make him feel better. He even went out and said a little prayer by the tree.”
There will be a fun-filled lighting ceremony on Monday, November 30, including pictures with Santa, hay rides, and free hot chocolate.