Holiday lights to brighten up Robbins Island for fourth year
The annual Celebrate the Light of the World holiday light display at Robbins Island Regional Park in Willmar is set to begin Thanksgiving night. The display will run from 5 to 10 p.m. every night through Jan. 1, 2022, and will raise funds for four local charities.
WILLMAR — After families have eaten their fill of Thanksgiving dinner, they might consider heading down to Robbins Island Regional Park in Willmar before tucking into their favorite pie. The Celebrate the Light of the World holiday light display will illuminate the park for the fourth year starting at 5 p.m. Thanksgiving night and going from 5 to 10 p.m. every night through New Years Day.
"Come out and enjoy," said John Schmidt, Willmar Fests board member and volunteer who has helped lead the installation of the display for the past four years.
The light display covers a large swath of the island, with more than 800,000 LED bulbs, dozens of Christmas trees and candy canes as well as other display pieces, such as a train and even a trio of Minions, characters from the movie franchise "Despicable Me."
Visitors will traverse the display in their vehicle, driving through the park using the old paved loop. When the city of Willmar approved the construction of a new road at the park , permission was given to continue using the old road as the light display route.
"That is beautiful and awesome, (their) allowing us to do that," Schmidt said.
At the conclusion of the display, visitors will have the opportunity to offer a freewill donation. This year, money raised at the display will be evenly split between the Salvation Army in Willmar, Habitat for Humanity of West Central Minnesota, Kandiyohi County Food Shelf and the United Way of West Central Minnesota. Last year, approximately $117,000 was raised and each of the nonprofits received a check of about $29,000.
"We want it to be something impactful and make a difference. Everything that goes into the donation bucket goes back to the nonprofits," Schmidt said. The display's sponsors help pay for the expenses related to Celebrate the Light , such as new strings of lights and structures.
Volunteers continue to play a huge role in the success of Celebrate the Lights. Schmidt said every year more and more people sign up to help install and take down the display, as well as cover the nightly duties of running the display through the season. Volunteer hours for this year's show are already filling up and Schmidt urges those who want to participate to sign up .
"If anyone wants to volunteer, I'd advise to get out there sooner rather than later," Schmidt said.
Since early October, Schmidt and a team of volunteers and helpers have been putting in the hard work of installing the display. While the weather has overall cooperated, ongoing construction at Robbins Island has been a challenge. As construction crews continue to build the remodeled park shelters, Christmas lights installers have had to work around them. While most of the big light structures are up, there is still a list of items that need to get done before the great reveal on Thanksgiving night.
"Thursday morning I'm sure we'll still be here," putting up the finishing touches, he said.
Others challenges this year include the ongoing pandemic and supply chain issues. Schmidt had hoped to bring in a walk-through element to this year's display, but the pieces purchased are still sitting in some shipping container in California, he said. The new pieces might have to wait until next year.
"I'm still waiting for replacement lights," Schmidt said.
Despite the delays, Schmidt said visitors can again expect a fun, cheerful holiday display, continuing the tradition started by Chad Koosman and his family nearly 15 years ago.
Koosman started the display at his home in 2008. Through the next 10 years, he raised more than $800,000 for the Salvation Army and the display was even featured on ABC's "The Great Christmas Light Fight." After the 2017 display, Koosman donated everything to Willmar Fests. The city gave permission to use Robbins Island as the display's new home in 2018.
Even with the hours of work and stress that putting up the display can cause, Schmidt is happy to do it. In the end, it is all about bringing some happiness to the community during a special time of year.
"The whole point of it is hope and joy," Schmidt said. "If we can communicate that through 800,000 LED bulbs, mission accomplished."