Presque Isle Lights Up

Presque Isle Lights up for Christmas

Ryleigh Heasley, Staff Writer

Imagine driving through Presque Isle at night but instead of walking on the sandy beaches, you’re driving on snowy roads and instead of looking at the sunset, you see Christmas lights all around. That is Presque Isle Lights in a nut shell. Many people don’t venture down to Presque Isle in the colder months of the year, in fact some people don’t even realize that the park is open in the winter.

The light displays show off the park’s yearround beauty, especially on days when there is a fresh snowfall and it’s so quiet you can hear a pin drop.

“It’s really a spectacle to see and experience the different ways people utilize the park in the winter months. Also, people don’t realize that you can take an evening drive on the park until 9p.m. That is an incentive for them to come out and see the park in the evening time, the bright lights shining across the bay downtown is really lit up and the waterfront is nice to see,” says Jon DeMarco, executive director of the Presque Isle Partnership.

PIP is an official non-profit partner of Presque Isle State Park that works closely with the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to implement projects and programs in the park for its 4+ million annual visitors.

About 12-15 years ago, the PIP board of directors visited a light show in Oglebay, WV, and thought it would be neat to incorporate something similar on Presque Isle. However, it is a much larger event there that has been going on for over 50 years and so the board decided it was a little too much to shoot for at the time. Then in 2020, after lock downs, masks, and social distancing, the organization throught it was time to tackle the project.

“We were really reenergized by the idea when the pandemic came about. Senator Dan Laughlin reached out to me directly about doing something like this, because at that time everybody was in lockdown and there was really nothing to do outside of the home,” says DeMarco.

He explains that it was a safe way to get people out of the house and in the safety and comfort of their own cars to enjoy a night drive around Presque Isle to view some lights during the pandemic.

This is the third year PIP has done the Presque Isle lights. After the first two years, they believe they now have a good idea of what can be done lighting-wise and after this year, PIP will explore opportunities to allow visitors to do more than just view lights to improve the visitor experience.
Presque Isle Lights started from scratch. “There was no kind of instruction manual or play book on how to do this. We learned a lot in the first two years and we’re really honored on what our capabilities are just hoping people appreciate the hard work that so many people have put into this,” DeMarco says. Now, PIP has spent over $100,000 on the wintertime event.

However, the costs haven’t all been spent on lights. This has been spent on lights, and controllers that operate the different displays that move, as not everything has an unlimited shelf life, like extension cords that have to be replaced.

The lights take 80 to 100 people to set up, beginning in the fall. PIP is fortunate enough to have a great working relationship with Penelec since the beginning. Workers bring down eight to ten bucket trucks to hang snowflakes and lights on the roofs of buildings and they also recruit a number of their employees who get a certain number of paid volunteer hours to help.

This year, it took about 40 Penelec employees and about three dozen PIP volunteers to set up the displays.

As the saying goes “many hands make light work” and that is certainly true when it comes to Presque Isle Lights and really all the events that PIP hosts throughout the year.

One substantial challenge for the lighting crews is that there is one main power line that runs through the park. This keeps the displays confined to areas where powered facilities are, such as the ranger station, the Stull Interpretive Center, the lighthouse, water works area, Perry Monument and others.

“We definitely wanted to crawl before we walk, and walk before we run. Now we’re in the third year we pretty much have our foundation laid and have a good idea of where we can add more lights, add more color and add more movement. To just make something that is tasteful for the community to enjoy that is also respectful of the natural environment,” says DeMarco.

Since there is no charge to use the state park, Presque Isle Lights is a free, self-guided tour of seasonal lights. The displays are illuminated every Thursday through Sunday throughout December at 6p.m. and the park gates close at 9p.m. Visitors must be through the entrance before 9p.m. to drive around the park.

PIP operates their donation booth at the second parking lot of the park. The donations allow the non-profit to continue to reinvest in their program and keep activities at the park free to the public. Not only do they provide funding for various events, but also improvements to the park, such as beach wheelchairs, new lifeguard stations, the Mobi Mats that provide wheelchair access on some of the beaches, picnic tables and things that the public can use and enjoy when visiting Presque Isle.

On Fridays and Satudays located in the fourth parking lot is the Lake Erie Speedway Hot Chocolate Pitstop. Lake Erie Speedway offers $2 hot chocolate to sip on as you enjoy your drive around Presque Isle.

Part of the donation campaign this year includes a chance to win a $1,000 gas card. Visitors can purchase a PIP frog button, who is dressed in his winter clothing ready for Presque Isle Lights, as part of their donation. Each button has a unique number on the back that can then be registered on the PIP website. After the Lights event, they will randomly draw a number to win the gas card. DeMarco encourages anyone visiting the light displays to make a donation because it is the only way the PIP makes money.

This year Presque Isle lights will have some new things. There are new light displays and more colorful lights. The lights have more movement to them and go into more detail on the buildings.

“I believe that where we are now is leaps and bounds beyond where we thought we were going to be,” says DeMarco.

In the end, PIP hopes visitors will leave with a deeper appreciation of the season and the park. “We hope it’ll brighten the holiday spirit for people that come down,” says DeMarco.