By Jessica Lovell
The Rotary Club of Guelph is hoping to make up for lost time at its Sparkles in the Park fundraiser by keeping the show of lights open past New Year’s Eve.
“We’re going to be open till Saturday night – Jan. 4,” said event chair Gail Moore.
The fundraiser, which sees Riverside Park lit up with Christmas lights and sponsored light displays, was forced to close down when Guelph was caught up in the ice storm that hit southern Ontario.
The event opened Dec. 14, and it would normally wrap up with a fireworks display starting at 8 p.m. on New Year’s Eve. But this year, the displays will remain open for four more nights after the fireworks event, in an effort to make up for the six nights the park was closed.
“Last year was an exceptionally good year,” said Moore of the $30,000 the event raised.
The club is not expecting to match that amount, but “we’re hoping to be close,” she said.
The funds raised support community and charity projects, both locally and internationally.
“A lot of the funds that we raise do come from the sponsors,” said Moore.
But Rotary volunteers also collect donations from visitors to the park, and closing the event means fewer donations.
Initially, it was a Rotary decision to close the event on Dec. 22. “It was such an awful night, we didn’t want our volunteers out there,” Moore said.
The next morning, the park was closed altogether because of tree damage and safety concerns.
“It was kind of amazing, really, that we didn’t lose any of our displays,” said Moore.
All lights and electrical equipment survived, and it was a matter of waiting for city staff to deal with damaged trees and give the go-ahead before Sparkles could reopen.
“They spent a lot of time out there,” said Moore.
In the end, the event reopened on Dec. 28 – sooner than initially expected.
Moore was out that night to welcome visitors to the park. “People were very generous and pretty happy to be back in the park,” she said.
New Year’s Eve is usually the biggest night for donations, she said, and that isn’t expected to change. But the club hopes people will also come to check out the displays in the days following.
This year’s circumstances might even lead to a new tradition for the event, said Moore.
“It may help us reassess when we should be open,” she said.
Extending the event past New Year’s Eve gives club volunteers an alternative to dismantling displays on New Year’s Day – the only day off in the week for many of them, Moore said.
It also means the event is open when kids are still out of school, which might be better than opening a week before school lets out, as that first week is usually pretty quiet, said Moore.
Opening later and staying open longer “might actually work out to be a better idea,” she said.
Sparkles in the Park is open nightly from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m.
For updates and information on the event, visit www.sparklesinthepark.ca.