- A quick countdown and a quick snip of a ribbon Thursday night couldn't come soon enough for Shawn Will.
"It's just gorgeous," Will said.
The Lights of the Northwoods Vice President watched as Hodag Park lit up on a large scale with holiday lights for the first time.
"This is incredible," Will said, with tears in his eyes.
The idea came from similar -- albeit larger -- displays in La Crosse and Marshfield. Will and a committee of volunteers worked for hundreds of hours to put together their own holiday lights show at the Rhinelander waterfront park.
The group raised money to buy 50,000 lights to go on trees, then brought in community members and groups to put together the show, which Will considers a "preview" for future years. Wisconsin Public Service and Gaber Electric offered expertise and equipment to provide power throughout Hodag Park.
"This is one of those Field of Dreams moments, you know, if you build it, they will come and they are coming in droves," Will said.
A long line of cars waited at the park's entrance at 5 p.m. to drive through the show on the opening night. Committee member Erica Chariton says seeing that line made months of work and a previous weekend full of setup worth it.
"It's something that's been needed here for a long time and I am super excited for it," Chariton said.
In addition to the 50,000 lights on trees, the show features 32 individual ground displays. The show is free to enter, but food and money donations are encouraged.
"It means bringing the community together and that's the biggest thing," community member and Rondele Ranch employee Joe Boehlen said as he waited with his wife in line.
The event is drive-through only this year, but committee members are already thinking of adding a walking path next year.
"Bigger and better, more lights," Chariton said with a laugh.
For now, tens of thousands of lights and colors will work just fine for Will, but he knows a quick four-day show this year lights the way for an even bigger and bolder display in 2018.
"This is not the end, this is just the beginning to, I believe, a great tradition here," Will said.
The Lights of the Northwoods will be open each night this weekend through Sunday, Dec. 17. More information is available via the link below.
Written By: Lane Kimble