The light display was first initiated by the city’s former director of parks and recreation Kris Gears in the late 1980s. Retired parks superintendent Gene Gustafson was working when the lights first turned on. He remembers one of the original ideas behind the display was to attract more skaters to the park in the wintertime. An additional reason the location was chosen was the light’s extended visibility beyond the park.
Gustafson says about 10,000 lights were strung on the trees that first year. Using a cherry-picker to install the lights, the process took about two months and was ready to light just before Thanksgiving. The lights were taken down once after the first season. Since then, they remain up year-round. The lights are connected to a timer and are switched on nightly, from the week before Thanksgiving through early February, when the skating rink closes.
Today, the trees are even brighter than in the past. In the last eight years, the lights have been gradually replaced with LED lights. Parks superintendent Rick Beane says, “As we do maintenance and repairs, we upgrade existing incandescent lights to LED.” Beane estimates over half of the lights in the park to be LED now. The new lights burn brighter and are more energy-efficient.
View the holiday lights at Oak Hill Park, 3201 Rhode Island Ave. (34th Street and Quebec).