Winter Wonderland

The annual Sportsman Lake Park’s Winter Wonderland, seen Sunday, is brighter than ever.

Bigger and brighter for this year’s Christmas season, Sportsman Lake Park’s Winter Wonderland has begun greeting its first carloads of guests — and apparently, the annual tour of lights has become one of the Cullman area’s best-kept holiday secrets.

“I had a lady call me last year from Cullman,” recalls Cullman County Commission chairman Kenneth Walker, who’s in charge of the parks budget that funds the display. “Her sister lives in Huntsville, and the Huntsville sister asked the Cullman sister if she wanted to come up and see Huntsville’s Galaxy of Lights display. Well, the Cullman sister said, ‘Oh, no: Y’all have got to come to Sportsman Lake Park, because the lights we have down here are just unbelievable.’

“So the sister from Huntsville came on down. And after she’d gone through and toured the Winter Wonderland, she didn’t hesitate — she admitted, hands-down, that there’s nothing comparable to what we have at Sportsman Lake Park. I think that’s pretty neat, that Doug [Davenport, Cullman County parks director] and our parks people have built it up into something that impressive. And remember — this was last year. It’s grown substantially since then.”

The county parks department, which operates Sportsman Lake, puts on the nighttime-only light display each year — and driving through the lights is just the beginning.

From now until Dec. 29, guests can take their Christmas spirit out to the park not only for the self-directed driving-tour, but also to ride the Christmas train, go on the sleigh ride (think “hay ride,” but with a Christmas spin), let the kids get a taste of winter near the snow machine, sip on hot chocolate, take keepsake snapshots with Santa in the Christmas photo booth, tour the park with a horse and carriage, and more.

Walker said the park staff continues to expand the light display every year, and that it won’t be hard for returning guests to spot the differences, even compared with last year’s Winter Wonderland. “This year, there was a local woman who had to sell her house, and in the process she had thousands — I mean thousands — of Christmas lights that she was going to have to get rid of. She just donated all of them to us to help the display grow. It’ll make a huge difference, especially for anybody who was already impressed by last year’s display.”

With a month to go before the Winter Wonderland melts away for another year, check the weather and start picking out the perfect night to be sure you’ll have time to take in everything. Driving tours through the Winter Wonderland cost $10 per vehicle, and the park will open for visitors from 5-9 p.m. on Wednesdays and Thursdays and from 5-10 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays (weather permitting). The park will be closed on Dec. 3-4 and Dec. 10-11. Christmas train rides are $4 per person, the sleigh ride is $3 per person, and horse and carriage rides (offered on select nights) are $5 per person.

For more information, follow the park on Facebook at @SportsmanLakePark.

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