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The show will go on

The show will go on
Laura and Jon Becker, of New Richland, brave the bitter temperatures and rain on Saturday to begin assembling the arch that will be raised at the entrance of Jellystone Park camp and resort near Austin. The arch will welcome visitors to the park's drive-through holiday Festival of Lights, which will weave through the campground.

Kiersten Hall doesn't want much: Just "25 minutes of jaw-dropping" entertainment — and she wants to share it with you.

Hall and her family have organized the first Austin Festival of Lights, a drive-through display of holiday lights and decorations.

It was an idea borne of necessity, she said.

"Last year, we drove around Austin to look at Christmas lights," she trailed off. "There just weren't any. Back when I was a kid, everyone put up lights."

The family reminisced about its time in East Peoria, Ill., which has had a festival for 27 years, and decided to go ahead with a similar festival in Austin.


The display opens Friday and runs nightly through Dec. 31.

Hall has secured a site that can handle the traffic: Jellystone Campground on Interstate 90 near Dexter. The multitude of roads on the grounds will provide a perfect progression for viewers, she said.

The fire that destroyed the main building there in October was barely a blip on the festival radar.

There was never a plan to use any buildings, "and the road didn't burn," Hall said. "I knew (the owners), and they're risk-takers, too."

Jellystone owners Don and Laura Tolner and Tammy and Ken Westridge didn't hesitate to let the show go on.

"I heard about the fire Sunday night," Hall said, "and Tuesday morning, I called Laura. I said, 'I don't know what to say, but are we still a go?' And seriously, no more than 10 seconds later, she called back and said yes."

The owners, she said, "need a little happiness, too."

Hall is assisted in the decorating by the 30 businesses that have volunteered to create a display along the route. Each business will be identified by a lighted sign.


The first thing visitors will see — and they'll see it from the interstate — is a 30-foot tall, two-lane arch leading into the campground. Most of the big decorations have been purchased by Hall, who admitted to doing some "discount shopping."

"The man who used to do the Blue Earth Festival of Lights died a couple of years ago," she said. "His kids kept it up for about two years," before they realized what a commitment it was, and sold some of his decorations.

As finances allow, Hall will buy more. As it is, she expects her electricity bill for the month to be $6,000-$7,000.

"Next year, we'll double or triple the display size," she said. "Anyone who knows me knows I do everything 200 percent. And I want it to continue, now that I own all these big things."

Visiting the festival should take about 20 to 25 minutes per car.

"I can't wait for the cars of giggling kids and mesmerized parents," Hall said. "When they drive in, it has to be pure magic."

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