Sign up to sing in Hot Springs

By Wayne Bryan Originally Published November 18, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated November 16, 2012 at 11:21 a.m.
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Visitors to Garvan Woodland Gardens during the holiday season can see more than 2 million lights illuminating 17 acres of landscaped grounds featuring regional plants, trees and flowers. The lights can be seen nightly through Dec. 31.

Every holiday season is a mixture of cherished traditions and happenings as new as the latest digital toys.

The holiday season has already begun, as Garvan Woodland Gardens near Hot Springs turned on more than 2 million sparkling lights Saturday night to illuminate 17 acres of gardens.

“This year’s holiday light display is the biggest ever,” said Sherre Freeman, marketing director for the gardens. “The new centerpiece of this year’s display is the new 50-foot-tall, animated Schueck Steel Holiday Tree at the Rose Garden amphitheater.”

The new tree is made from more than five miles of linear steel, decorated with more than 600 feet of red-and-white garland and 100,000 lights. The tree measures 18 feet in diameter at the base and is topped with a 12-foot-wide rose topper, according to an announcement by Garvan Gardens.

The tree, sponsored by Schueck Steel/Lexicon Management Group in Little Rock, is surrounded by more lighted trees and an animated display of Santa, reindeer and elves, Freeman said.

There will be special musical and holiday events through Dec. 31, including free concerts by local school choirs at the Anthony Chapel in the gardens. Visit www.garvangardens.org for more information.

In downtown Hot Springs, the traditional array of holiday lights on the Arlington Lawn will not be there this year. It reopened last week, having been closed since July 30 for a number of improvements, according to the National Park Service.

While the casual observer may not notice the changes made in the greenspace at the north end of Bathhouse Row, across the street from the Arlington Resort Hotel and Spa, renovations included a new irrigation system, reshaping the land for better drainage, and relocating some of the sidewalk.

“We want to move the sidewalk so that it more resembles the way it looked in the 1930s,” Mike Kusch, chief of interpretation and cultural resources management for the park, said when the work began. “The current look is from the 1980s.”

The pool and fountain on the lawn also got some attention, but there will be no major changes.

“We covered the display pool’s concrete with tufa stone to make it look more like the natural hillside,” Kusch said.

There will still be lights around downtown, from the Hot Springs Downtown Merchants Association. New LED light displays are at some of the city’s fountains, and the light posts along Central Avenue are again decorated with wreathes and snowflake lights.

The merchants will hold their ninth annual Chili Cook-off on Monday night at the Exchange Street Parking Plaza. The contestants include teams from Hot Springs and throughout the region. Each team will have three hours to cook 10 gallons of chili, said Bob Martorana, president of the downtown association and general manager of the Arlington Hotel. The contest will have at least two dozen contestants, he said.

Once the chili is done, the public is invited to sample the entries, starting at 4 p.m. The price is $4 per person for all-you-can-eat chili, with the funds going to purchase and maintain downtown holiday lighting.

The downtown lights will be turned on at 5 p.m.

Garland County Judge Rick Davis said there will be plenty of lights at the Garland County Courthouse on Prospect Avenue, but the dome of the courthouse and the railing around the roof will not have their usual lights because a renovation of the roof is not yet completed.

The courthouse roof has undergone some major repairs because of leaks. Davis said right after his election that a new courthouse roof was needed because of water getting into county offices.

“There will be lights on the grounds,” Davis said, “and on the walls of the courthouse.”

Workers were busy, last week, putting up the lights on the courthouse lawn and on the building’s facade.

Meanwhile, back at the Arlington Lawn, the National Park Service has invited groups of carolers, church and school choirs or anyone who might want to sing a solo to sign up during December.

“The idea is for musicians to perform at any time of their choosing and bring holiday cheer to our most visited downtown greenspace,” according to an announcement from Josie Fernandez, the superintendent of Hot Springs National Park.

There is an image of a Christmas tree, made from white lights, near the display pool where singers can perform.

To participate in the Caroling in the Park event, performers need to sign up on a schedule at the park service office. Performers will have to bring any equipment they need. For more information, call Karen Johnson at the parks service at (501) 620-6720.

The theme for the 2012 Oaklawn Rotary Christmas Parade, to be held at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 3., is “Peace, Joy and Love.”

The grand marshal of the event will be Dorothy Morris, president of the Morris Foundation and co-founder of the Hot Springs Giving Circle. Her foundation has given more than $1 million to serve the needs of the region. The parade is a fundraiser for college scholarships for area youth.

The Celebration of Lights will brighten the Saline County Courthouse in Benton on Monday night, and the celebration events will begin Dec. 4, said Holly Beaver, administration aid to County Judge Lanny Fite.

“We needed to turn on the lights starting Nov. 19 to be included in the Arkansas Trail of Lights,” Beaver said. “The official lighting ceremony will be held at 6 p.m., after the Christmas parade.”

The traditional activities around the decorated courthouse will run though December, including free hot cocoa and cookies.

A fireworks display takes place before the lighting each year.

“We hold an annual essay contest in the schools,” Beaver said, “and the winner gets to flip the switch.”

There is entertainment during many of the evenings, and for six nights, Santa will arrive for free pictures with the children.

“When there isn’t live music, there will be Christmas karaoke music so the adults and kids can join together to sing some of the most popular Christmas songs and carols,” Beaver said.

For more information about the Saline County Celebration of Lights, call Beaver at (501) 303-5640.

Christmas parades are also scheduled in Arkadelphia on Dec. 6 and in Malvern on Dec. 13.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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