Lemon Park Lights: Getting ready for fun requires protection planning this year in Pratt

Jennifer Stultz
Pratt Tribune
Ron Miller adds new gold garland to a Christmas display in the Lemon Park Lights barn north of Lemon Park. Community volunteers have been gathering at the barn regularly all month, chipping in to prepare more than 80 lighted displays for the annual Lemon Park Lights tour that lasts through the Christmas season in Pratt.
A new pheasant, donated by KDWP, replaces a smaller pheasant stolen last year by local vandals from the annual Lemon Park Lights display at the Pratt park.
Lemon Park Lights coordinators Ron Miller and Deb Goyen put the finishing touches on a new display for this year honoring Prattan Keith Befort.

Lemon Park Lights coordinators Deb Goyen and Ron Miller have been reveling in the number of volunteers that continue to offer help this year with the annual task of readying the 80+ Christmas light displays. As they work replacing bulbs, adding garlands and putting together new works-of-art, they are considering what the community might do this year to prevent the ever-increasing problem of vandalism that hits the holiday tour each year in Pratt.

"This truly is a community thing," said Goyen. "So many people have contacted me wanting to help. It's great for groups looking to do community service, it's more fun than a lot of other options for that, and it just is a feeling of accomplishment to finish checking and replacing the bulbs in one display and move on to the next."

Goyen said more and more businesses seem to be encouraging employee community service. She has been getting calls from people who are still working from home and want to get out and do something fun for a community service options. She also said that more often than not, groups or people who have worked on the light displays will come back when they are all up and lit, and take pictures with their handiwork.

"It really provides a connection when they can say, 'Hey, there's the one I worked on,' Then they bring back their families and friends to show them," she said.

While more than half of the displays have already been checked, reworked and had LED lights installed, Goyen said help was always welcome to finish out the large-scale project that has to be ready for set-up by the first and second week of November.

"We still need two or three good nights of helpers coming in," she said. "What we are doing is plugging in each display and replacing broken sockets or bulbs that don't work, and going through and finding all the blue, green and red conventional lights and making sure they are LEDS. Those are the ones that fade."

Of course, some displays need a little more work because they have been damaged by vandalism - like the large polar bear.

"Someone pulled the big bear across the road last year," Ron Miller said. "I don't know why someone would think that was fun or acceptable to do, but over half the lights were broken or damaged and have to be replaced. At least we still have him here to work with, so many others were just stolen."

Missing last year due to vandalism were Woodstock (from the Peanuts display group), a goose and a pheasant. The blue wolf has also been stolen many times, including last year, but strangely, a blue wolf stolen several years ago was returned after being found in a basement last year and will be back on display this year.

"We've lost three of those wolves through the years," Miller said. "It was nice to get one back this year because they are very expensive to replace, but there was no explanation how or why it was found where it was. Maybe we can do something about protecting them a bit better this year."

Miller and Goyen said that four security cameras had been purchased to "watch" the Christmas lights displays this year, but that likely wouldn't be enough. In the past, community members have offered to donate security cameras for the Lemon Park Lights displays in order to catch whomever is stealing or vandalizing the icons. This year, if those offers still stand, the lights display committee would like to know ahead of time what is available to put up in the park, and plan accordingly. Prevention is high on the list of priorities this year.

"Contact Ron or Deb on Facebook at Lemon Park Lights, if you have security cameras to donate and want to help watch," Goyen said. "We will be getting ready for setup on November 6 and the Lighting Ceremony is November 17. We would like to have our security cameras set up by then as well. These displays are all memorials, donated by families and friends to honor their loved ones. We need to protect them as a community and hold responsible those who would go out and damage or steal them. We can do this."

New icons donated this year and joining the park display lineup include a man driving a large motorcycle in honor of Keith Befort. Former Pratt residents Betty Harp and Betty Wright will be remembered by a special display of two ladies drinking coffee together on a park bench; and a special tribute is planned for Jim Phillips, former Pratt Tribune publisher, who passed away this past year.

"We are feeling so much support," Goyen said. "Walmart helps with gift cards to replace the light bulbs, the county provides financial support, the city tourism group is really good for whatever I need and the city guys in the electrical department go above and beyond to help set this all up. It's just amazing."

Goyen said she also wanted to recognize Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks for offering to replace all the "birds" that had been stolen the previous year. A new pheasant is up and ready to go in the Light Barn, perhaps three times bigger than last year's version, and hopefully harder for someone to make off with.

Many of the newer LED items, such as the new pheasant, the turkey, deer, moose, elk and bear have been created by an artistic welder from Utah. Miller continues to fashion many of the other new and rebuilt items.

In preparation for the future, Goyen said the Geometry in Construction class from Pratt High School will soon be building an additional shed for better storage and work space for Lemon Park Lights. While the concrete pad is already in place and construction plans in progress, she said it would likely not be ready for use this Christmas season.