Lighting Up the Ozarks

Lighting Up the Ozarks

Photo Contributed by Matt Faries
The Lights Of the Ozarks is Celebrating its 21st anniversary this year.

Throughout the past six weeks, starting in October, Fayetteville’s Parks and Recreation staff have been wrapping 400,000 light bulbs of LED holiday lights around every tree and inch of green space on the downtown Fayetteville square. In total, there are 34 miles of light strands.

In order to set all those lights up, it’s estimated to take about 3,000 hours to complete the decorating. Up to 15 or 20 Fayetteville Parks and Recreation employees work together each day to string the lights up, starting with the upper tree canopies and working from there to covering the ground. About $15,000 of lights were bought this year for the display.

The event has been going strong for 21 years. More than 30,000 people are estimated to visit the display during the six weeks it’s in operation. The lights will be on from 6 p.m. to midnight every night until Dec. 31.

The bulbs used are mainly 5 millimeter-wide-angle, indoor-outdoor, and break resistant for ensuring quality over time. To ensure the lights work, Parks and Recreation workers do test runs on the lights before sunrise in the weeks before the night of the opening parade. The total cost of operating the Lights of the Ozarks is estimated to be about $100,000, including labor, equipment, and energy cost, said Byron Humphry, parks maintenance superintendent for Fayetteville.

“It’s more or less just the volume of lights that I think makes it so impressive,” Humphry said. “When you have more than 400,000 bulbs, it really doesn’t matter a whole lot the scheme you have. You’re kind of overwhelming folks with just the amount of lights.”


Staff Photo Nick Brothers
Denver King, a Fayetteville Parks and Recreation employee, fastens a line of holiday lights to a garden fixture on the downtown Fayetteville square, Tuesday, Nov. 18. More than 400,000 LED bulbs are used to light the square up.

The idea for Lights of the Ozarks started as an idea with a Fayetteville Advertising and Promotions Commission retreat in 1993 to identify ways to increase visitors for more Hotel, Motel and Restaurant tax revenue in the slow winter months.

On the Saturday before Thanksgiving, the tradition began. A lighted fire truck started at the airport at Drake Field in south Fayetteville. As the truck drove into town, businesses along the way turned on their Christmas lights as the fire truck passed. After lighting the square, one block at a time, the fire truck proceeded on to the mall. Over the years, the display has become centered on the downtown square.

“Our square is so beautiful in general. Our community is what makes it different,” said Hazel Hernandez, special events coordinator for Experience Fayetteville. “Lights of the Ozarks is in its 21st year. After a while events can grow stale, but we just keep coming. It’s our community and friendliness, there’s a warm fuzzy feel to the square and makes you nostalgic for the holidays.”

This year, the display will include parts of Block Street and Dickson Street, Hernandez said.

“We happened to have additional lights and some different lights from different businesses,” she said. “There will be a little more lights out there, so downtown will be a little brighter.”


Photo Contributed by Matt Faries
Familes take in the lights during the Lights of the Ozark’s opening parade.

The most rewarding part of the event is how the lights bring out the families with children, and seeing their faces light up, Humphry said.

“The biggest thing is seeing the reaction from the public,” he said. “It’s never not ‘Ooos’ and ‘Ahhhs’ when the lights come on. It’s very rewarding to see how much the public appreciates it. There’s always a lot of people.”

As for the Light the Night parade that acts as the opening ceremony for the Lights of the Ozarks, the Fayetteville Visitors Bureau coordinates with the University of Arkansas Hospitality Special Events Management class. The class, taught by Godwin Ogbeide, tasks the students with organizing the parade and managing the nightly events on the square including camel rides, pony rides, hot chocolate shacks and carriage rides. There will also be periodic choir performances from local school choirs and performance groups.

This year, the parade started on Friday, Nov. 21, at the Fayetteville Public Library, traveled east on Mountain, north on East Avenue, west on Center Street, north on Block Street, west on Dickson Street and south on School Avenue.

For more information about events during The Lights of the Ozarks, visit

Coordinating the event takes a lot of time and people, but it brings the city together, Hernandez said.

“(Lights of the Ozarks) brings us together,” she said. “We work with parks and recreation, the university, and the Visitor’s Bureau — and we’re all working to the same goal. It brings the citizens together to enjoy the lights.”

Categories: Cover Story