WHEELING - After 28 years, the Winter Festival of Lights at Oglebay Park is more than just an annual display.
Wheeling Park Commission President and Chief Executive Officer Doug Dalby sees that firsthand every year.
"It's really become a tradition," he said. "People who used to come with their parents are now coming with their children."
LEAVING THE LIGHTS ON — Bissonnette Gardens at Oglebay Park is a colorful location for visitors to the Oglebay Winter Festival of Lights to stroll through while visiting the park’s annual holiday light show. -- Scott McCloskey
That tradition kicked off with a bang Thursday, as members of the Park Commission and Triadelphia Middle School student Madison Zoladz threw the switch to officially open the Festival of Lights for the holiday season.
Zoladz designed one of the three new displays, a Christmas tree farm. Dalby said Zoladz's design was chosen by a committee that reviewed ideas submitted by area students.
Zoladz said she developed the idea with her sister, Morgan, after seeing a neighbor's truck carrying Christmas trees. She flipped the switch to turn on the lights Thursday, setting off a fireworks display.
Other new displays include woodpeckers and a leaping frog display, as well as an expanded Oglebay Village. Those displays join familiar favorites, such as the Garden of Lights and the Light and Music Extravaganza.
For new park commissioner Joan Stamp, Thursday's event was her first since taking over in an official capacity. She said while she has attended previous light up night ceremonies, this was the first time she helped flip the switch.
"This is a very special evening, and I'm very honored to be a part of it" she said.
Stamp replaced Roland "Ron" Hobbs, who retired from the commission earlier this year after 41 years. He also participated in Thursday's ceremony.
Meanwhile, Dalby said Oglebay has booked more rooms for the season so far this year compared to this time last year. He said visitors to the park for the light display are typically half returning individuals and half new. Both new and returning guests this year can experience the tour in a new way, as Oglebay Park recently developed an iPhone and iPad app that gives a guided audio tour of the light displays.
The Winter Festival of Lights is open through Jan. 5. It begins at dusk and lasts until 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and until 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. There is no admission, though a donation is requested.