FORT SMITH, Ark. — The City of Fort Smith Parks & Recreation Department announced Monday (Nov. 16) that the holiday lights at Creekmore Park will be lit earlier than usual this year and that the beloved Holiday Express Train will not be operating due to the current COVID-19 pandemic.
City Parks' staff usually turn the holiday lights on at Creekmore Park the Friday night following Thanksgiving. This year, the City has decided to flip the switch a little early - 5 p.m. Monday, Nov. 23.
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the beloved Holiday Express Train will not be in operation this year. The City of Fort Smith will not re-open the train until the pandemic subsides.
“The Parks Commission met last week and discussed the plans for this year’s holiday light display and the operation of the Holiday Express Train," Parks and Recreation Director Doug Reinert stated. "Given we are still in the middle of a pandemic, The Parks Commission determined the safest way to proceed would be to NOT operate the Holiday Express train to keep people as safe as possible. As a consolation, the Commission decided to have City Parks’ staff flip the lights on a little early so people could enjoy the holiday ambiance a little longer.”
Reinert added that the City park's staff would take other precautions to help reduce person-to-person contact at Creekmore Park by installing signs to help direct visitors. Face masks at the park will be encouraged, according to Reinert.
“We will be installing one-way directional signage for people who choose to visit the park on foot. We ask that people please stay 6-feet apart, wear their masks at all times, and when possible carry hand sanitizer," he said.
The holiday celebration brings thousands to Creekmore Park each year. City leaders hope the celebrations can continue this year, but in a safe and responsible way that will not magnify the spread of COVID-19 in Fort Smith.
“We are excited to continue the lighting tradition this year despite the pandemic. While we won’t be running the train, or encouraging people to come out as they have in years before, we believe our citizens and visitors can still enjoy the Creekmore lights and holiday ambiance from a safe distance – especially from inside their cars," City Administrator Carl Geffken said. "We want everyone to comply with the CDC’s guidelines to protect their health and the health of their friends and loved ones during the holidays. We encourage everyone to enjoy the lights responsibly and take this opportunity to possibly create new holiday traditions like exploring other parts of downtown Fort Smith, like the shops along Garrison Avenue, or a walk along Riverfront Pavilion, Pendergraft Park, and Cisterna Park in the Downtown.”
The City of Fort Smith began the Creekmore Park lighting display with just a few lights in 1993.