After 27 years, Kerwin Doughton plans to hand off the reins for the Umpqua Valley Festival of Lights that he helped start in 1993 at River Forks Park west of Roseburg.

Doughton has been chairman of the committee since the Festival of Lights started and the event has grown to the point that it now brings in 25,000 to 30,000 visitors a year. Close to 8,000 vehicles come through the park each holiday season and about 20% of those are from out of Douglas County.

“We have an impact on the restaurants and motels plus we get to show off Roseburg and that great park out there,” Doughton said.

“I think it’s one of the defining events in Douglas County,” said Brian Prawitz of BP Media, which is promoting the event. “I think it’s a draw for tourism, we get people coming off of I-5 to see it.”

The key to getting people to return year after year is to have some new displays every year Doughton said, and the committee has been able to do that.

“We’ve kept refreshing and just recently we’ve gone to building those (light displays) locally,” Doughton added.

The engineering team at Con-Vey, a local company in Roseburg, built a display last year, and the team built another display for this year’s event.

“They donate that, they have all the facilities and the expertise and that saves us a lot of money and helps the budget tremendously,” Doughton said.

Jack Reilly is also stepping down this year after 25 years of supervising the big job of setting up the displays.

“He doesn’t do it for the money, that’s for sure”, Prawitz said. “He’s been so crucial in getting that thing put together, that is massive and it’s a tremendous labor project.”

Losing Reilly and Doughton at the same time is a loss of a lot of institutional knowledge and leaves a big hole, but the Festival of Lights committee will take over next year.

The popular Holiday Village will be back this year near the entrance to River Forks Park. Entry to the Village is free and it will feature characters from Disney’s Frozen, the world’s largest Nutcracker, over 500,000 lights, a holiday music radio channel and Santa is there every night through Christmas Eve.

“Princesses were a huge hit so we are going to do that again on some special nights, and people need to pay attention to the Facebook page to find out when those nights will be,” Prawitz said.

Special nights for local organizations are set aside to raise funds for the Boys & Girls Club of the Umpqua Valley, Saving Grace Pet Adoption Center, UCAN Food Pantry, and a Foster Family Night.

On Dec. 23, the Foster Families Christmas party will be held at the Holiday Village by invitation only for foster children and their families. They will have access to everything in the Holiday Village including the princesses, face painting and Santa Claus.

The Festival of Lights is a fundraiser for the Rotary Club and money raised at the event goes to Rotary scholarships and Rotary projects in the community. But that’s not their only contribution. Doughton said the event puts a significant amount of money back into the community every year.

“People don’t realize that but we probably put $50,000 into the community in terms of hiring people to do our labor and buy materials and so forth,” Doughton said. “The volunteers have really made this what it is.”

Over 100 people work at the gates during the event, and many others donate money, time and materials.

“It’s just something I think lots and lots of people have had a hand in and lots of people are proud of and something that makes it cool to live here,” Prawitz said.

This year’s Festival of Lights opened Sunday, Nov. 24 and will run through Wednesday night, Jan. 1. It will open each night from 5:30 to 9 p.m. except Friday and Saturday, it is open until 10 p.m. Price is $10 per carload.

Reporter Dan Bain can be reached at 541-957-4221 or e-mail at dbain@nrtoday.com.

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Dan Bain is the health reporter for The News-Review. He previously worked at KPIC and 541 Radio.

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