Erin Ray

Auburn Recreation Coordinator Erin Ray stands in front of a Christmas street scene inside the Eckhart Park Pavilion. The scene is one of many that will be featured on the Auburn Parks and Recreation Department’s Christmas walk today, Saturday and Sunday and Dec. 13-15. The event takes year-round planning, with hundreds of hours of work.

AUBURN — Eckhart Park in Auburn will be transformed into a Christmas wonderland with holiday scenes and twinkling lights when the Auburn Parks and Recreation Department welcomes visitors to its 29th Christmas Walk, Dec. 6-8 and 13-15.

Planning for the event begins long before the walk itself, and creating the props and scenes takes place when the weather is anything but wintry.

"We start planning pretty much at the start of the year," said recreation coordinator Erin Ray. "Prop building begins sometime in July."

This year's walk theme is the Polar Express, which was voted on overwhelmingly by members of the community, Ray said. The department posted a survey on its Facebook page, asking members of the community to select a theme for the Christmas walk, as well as the department's Halloween walk, Ray said. It was the first time the department had conducted such a a survey.

"This is for the community, so why not give them a theme they are excited about?" Ray said. A similar survey for next year's Halloween and Christmas walks will be coming around in January, she added.

Ray said hundreds of hours go into planning and preparing for the walk. The department seeks out sponsorships in addition to selecting props that have been featured on previous walks as well as designing and building new ones.

She credited the department's administrative assistant, Courtney Butler, for lending her artistic talents to decorate the props and the department's maintenance team for cutting, drilling and setting up the props and laying extension cords and lights throughout the park.

"There are probably 15 to 20 different scenes throughout the park and countless props that go into the different scenes," Ray said.

In addition, the park's indoor pavilion will be decorated, and children will have the opportunity to meet and have photos taken with Santa and Mrs. Claus and the Polar Express conductor. There will be a reindeer craft activity, a scavenger hunt, and hot chocolate will be served, Ray said.

"It grows every year," Ray said of the walk. Last year's event saw 1,800 people in attendance. "We're hoping to see more this year," she added.

Admission to the walk costs $2 per person or $1 with the donation of a canned food item, which will go to the Catholic Charities food bank. Children younger than 3 years old will be admitted free.

This year's event sponsors are Taylor Rental, Nucor, Metal Technologies and Phil's One Stop.

"They're a crucial part," Ray added.

Ray said the parks department is looking for volunteers to help serve hot chocolate, pass out candy canes, supervise the reindeer craft table, and manage pavilion crowd control and photo opportunities on any night of the walk. Anyone interested should contact the parks department at 925-2997.

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