The annual Enchanted Land of Lights and Legends is transforming Regional Park in advance of Christmas, with volunteers erecting displays of lights on Friday.

The annual Enchanted Land of Lights and Legends is transforming Regional Park in advance of Christmas, with volunteers erecting displays of lights on Friday.


Pine Bluff Festival Association Executive Director Greg Gustek worked with Pine Bluff Street Department employees, association board members and volunteers, raising heavy metal beams bearing lights while battling strong winds on Friday. They were preparing for the 18th annual display of lights, which is set to open Thursday, Nov. 18, and run through Thursday, Dec. 31. The lights will be illuminated from 6-9 p.m. each day.


"We are the largest drive-through display of lights in Arkansas and one of the largest in the South," Gustek said. "We have a wow factor; that is why we are so successful. Years of experience leads to increased efficiency."


The display enables people to stay in their car, taking in the sights while driving 1.3 miles through the park. There is no price of admission, but volunteers accept donations on behalf of the association. Businesses sponsor the displays to make up the rest of the funding.


Gustek said they replace up to 10,000 bulbs each year, spend $80,000 on the display and anticipate 110,000 guests. He said he looks forward to buses carrying people from Gulf of Mexico towns to Pine Bluff while heading to Branson, Mo. These visitors spend the night in Pine Bluff hotels.


The opening night will be broadcast on Channel 7 on Nov. 18, weather permitting, Gustek said. He returns each year because he is excited for children to see the lights. They began preparing on Oct. 1 and should finish shortly before the opening.


Festival Association Coordinator Will Smith said they are more efficient at setting up the displays this year because they have learned from past mistakes. Regional Park is next to Lake Langhofer, which caused some problems in past years.


"One year the water came up and covered the lights while they were on the ground," Smith said, laughing. "It is easy to put up the displays and easy to take them down. The most challenging part is making the lights work. We require three miles of extension cords."


Festival Association member Pete Ahlgrim will have the honor of turning on the lights this year. He noted the teamwork among all the people hammering stakes into the ground on Friday.


"We get bigger every year and require more electrical juice," Ahlgrim said. "If you have too much electricity on one line, you will trip a fuse."


He predicted this year will be better than ever, with a "Wizard of Oz" display and "Twelve Days of Christmas" display.