ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) -- It's the last weekend of the year for a family holiday tradition at Sinnissippi Park. Organizers say the community's donations help the Festival of Lights and another local tradition grow every year.
The Festival of Lights started back in 1989 when organizer Joe Marino, who is also on the committee for the downtown Rockford 4th of July fireworks, created the event to try to bring in donations for the fireworks. The Rockford Park District and the Rockford 4th of July committee worked together to start up the festival.
Now carloads of people from across the Stateline drive through a one-mile loop of colorful lighted displays at Sinnissippi Park. Each display is sponsored by local businesses, community groups, and individuals. The committee only had 11 displays when it first started, now it has grown to about 54 displays with approximately 26,000 lights. According to the committee's car counter, about 12,000 vehicles came through during the 12 nights of the festival this year. That means approximately 50,000 people viewed the light display, which is more than last year.
"Festival of lights has become a part of so many families in the Rockford and surrounding areas tradition, just like the 4th of July fireworks. We have people that come from all over to see the displays, and to be able to sit in the car and point things out to their kids or to have parents hear their kids 'ooh and ahh.’ It's all about tradition and I think that's what keeps people coming back and that's what keeps our community excited about this time of year," said Ted O’Donnell, the Festival of Lights coordinator and Joe Marino’s nephew.
Organizers say one of the best parts of the Festival of Lights is that you don't have to get out of your car and freeze to see them. You can just drive through with the heat on and B103's Christmas music playing while experiencing all of the lights.
Joe Marino said IBEW Local 364 helped start the light tradition by putting electric lines underground throughout the entire park for free in 1989. Now those outlets help with other events that are put on throughout the year at Sinnissippi Park.
Ted O’Donnell and a few other laborers volunteer their time to build the displays and put up the lights themselves. They started in October and it took about a month and a half to finish.
The communities donations keep the lights on year after year and also go toward Rockford’s annual 4th of July fireworks that the city's been viewing for more than 50 years.
The community can donate Christmas lights, chicken wire, and lumber to the committee to help them build the displays. To donate you can contact the committee through its Facebook page, which is Festival of Lights Rockford, or through its website, rockfordfireandice.com.
The festival will be open from 5-10 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.