Tall Order: Towering Christmas tree coming to downtown; more than $10K in prizes planned for parade

By BRUCE ALSOBROOK, News-Telegram Managing Editor

August 21, 2008 - The holidays on the downtown square of Sulphur Springs are looking to be brighter than ever this year with the addition of a huge Christmas tree that will grace the square.

City Manager Marc Maxwell said the 28-foot, pre-lighted tree was scheduled for delivery today, and it promises to be quite a sight come December.

"Twenty-eight feet is about as tall as a telephone pole, and on top of a four-foot stage downtown, it will be visible for quite a ways," Maxwell said. "With a ton of lights, it'll be quite a sight."

And it's energy efficient, too.

"These are LED lights, which use about one-tenth the power of regular Christmas lights," he said.

Gary and Dr. Deborah Stokes and Dr. Don O'Neal and his wife generously donated the money to pay for the tree. While the cost is not known, it easily runs to several thousand dollars -- a 16-foot tree with far fewer lights can be purchased over the Internet for about $1,500, for example.

Maxwell said the height could be extended if a bigger tree is needed in the future.

"It's a steel-frame structure, and it goes up in two-foot increments, so if you want to add another two feet and make it 30, 34, 36 feet, you could do that," he explained.

Meanwhile, plans for the Lions Club's first lighted Christmas parade are in full swing. The club decided earlier this year it would hold a nighttime parade with floats that will be moving holiday displays, and big prizes will be offered to the winners.

He said Lions Club members and the club's parade committee working out the details and are already recruiting people to build floats.

Maxwell said members of the Hopkins County Chamber of Commerce Ambssadors Club, as well as Downtown Business Alliance members, will be recruiting people to enter floats in the lighted parade, scheduled for Dec. 6.

"Don't be surprised if you get a call in the next few days," the city manager said.

And there's good reason to be excited about entering a float in this parade -- organizers are planning to offer $7,000 in prizes.

There will be three categories of entries, Maxwell said, with $2,000 to first place in each division, $1,000 to second place and $500 for third place.

"It's a pretty good incentive," Maxwell said.

A lighted Christmas parade may be unique to Northeast Texas, but other parts of the country are famliar with the concept. The parade entry recruiters will be carrying 11-minute DVDs, for example, that include footage of a parade in Ferndale, Calif., a small dairy community that has had tremendous success with its lighted parade.

Odessa holds one, as well, and Maxwell's conversations with that city's parks and recreation director gives him good reason to believe the prize money will generate a lot of entries.

"He said the community has so much fun, and the prize money brings them out. He told me, 'We had some success with the $1,000 first prize, but when we went to $2,000, it was a noticeable difference.

"I really think it's going to be quite a successful," he added. "I'm looking forward to it. It's going to be a blast."

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