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Three members of the self-described Campground Christmas Crew, from left, Linda Carter, Karen Rowe and Judy West-Pratt, display some of the lights that will be used to decorate the campground at the Hay River Territorial Park.
Paul Bickford/NNSL photo

Hay River may be seeing the beginning of a new Christmas tradition.

It’s the first-annual Campground Christmas, which is a drive-through display of festive lights at the Hay River Territorial Park.

The idea originated with Judy West-Pratt, who last year visited the Northern Spirit Light Show at Evergreen Park in Grande Prairie, Alta.

“It was brilliant,” she said of that light show. “I mean it’s massive, it’s huge. And it was a really, really great thing to do at Christmastime.”

That got West-Pratt contemplating the possibilities for Hay River.

“And so I thought there was no reason why we couldn’t do something similar here,” she said.

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West-Pratt then phoned around to some friends, and about a dozen of them started an informal group they are calling the Campground Christmas Crew to organize the event in Hay River.

It is set for three days from Dec. 4 to Dec. 6, and from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. each evening.

The idea is that individuals, groups and businesses can rent campsites and decorate them in a contest that will award prizes in two categories – residential and business.

“So you rent an actual campsite and then you go decorate it however you darn well please,” said West-Pratt.

There will be 24 teams involved.

“We were just thrilled,” said West-Pratt of the community involvement. “We hadn’t expected the enthusiasm that we’ve got so far.”

The event is also taking into account safety in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Unfortunately because of Covid, we can only do drive-through,” said West-Pratt. “Originally, of course, we thought people could walk through. We wanted vendors. We were going to have some food things and drinks, and we were going to have music. But of course due to Covid that’s just impossible to pull off this year. So hopefully next year they’ll be able to incorporate some of that stuff.”

Admission is free, although organizers are encouraging people to bring a cash donation or a non-perishable food item in support of Christmas food hampers to be distributed by St. Andrew’s Anglican Church. People can also bring a toy to donate to Secret Santa.

The entry fees for teams of $25 in the residential category and $50 in the business category will also go to help with the Christmas food hampers.

West-Pratt noted that, as a free event, the Campground Christmas is accessible to everyone in the community.

“You just load your family in the car and you don’t have to have any money at all,” she said. “You can just go in and drive through. This year we’re using two-thirds of the park. Hopefully, next year they’ll sell out the whole park.”

West-Pratt said she was absolutely thrilled that the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment (ITI), which operates the Hay River Territorial Park, agreed to the idea of a Campground Christmas.

“Their enthusiasm for the project was immediate and they just came forward and did everything we needed,” she said.

That included providing electricity and taking care of snow removal at the campground, which is usually closed during the winter.

Angela Desilets, a planning and operations officer for territorial parks with ITI, said, to her knowledge, this will be the first time for a Christmas light show in a territorial park.

Desilets said ITI is proud to support this event.

“It’s a perfect way to spread some holiday cheer this season. And it’s these kind of activities that bring the feeling of normalcy to the season while still being safe with our current climate navigating Covid and our safety rules at the present time,” she said. “It’s certainly our pleasure to be able to contribute to these fantastic events that benefit so many different people in the community. I mean it’s healthy, fun competition between the businesses trying to outdo each other with their light displays.”

Desilets is also pleased that the event will help provide Christmas hampers to families in need.

Hay River’s Campground Christmas has also inspired a similar event in Fort Smith.

“They’re going to do the Queen Elizabeth Park over there,” said Desilets. “So it’s really kind of cool that it’s catching some traction and other communities are getting on board.”

The Fort Smith event – called Light Up the Park 2020 – will run from Dec. 13 to Dec. 24 and will be presented from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. each evening.

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