Drive-through parks light the night
Holiday light parks give visitors a chance to view multiple displays, some featuring hundreds of thousands of lights. Mid-Missouri is home to a number of drive-through light parks, most of which are free and open to the public. (Photo Credit: Courtesy photo) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — Holiday light parks aren’t a new phenomenon in mid-Missouri, but in the era of COVID-19 lockdowns, quarantines and mask mandates, there’s been a renewed interest in them.

Rolla Lioness Club President Sharron Lenox has seen the resurgence firsthand from people eager to enjoy the annual light show her organization presents from the comfort and safety of their vehicles.

“There’s been a great outpouring of support from the community,” Lenox said.

The 19th annual Rolla Lioness Christmas in the Park opened Wednesday night at Rolla Lions Club Park on Hwy. 63 South in Rolla, with dozens of displays set up by Rolla-area businesses, churches, schools, civic groups and other organizations. The light park opens daily at 6 p.m. now through Dec. 19 and stays open until 9 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

Like many light parks offered by municipalities and not-for-profit organizations, Christmas in the Park is free.

“It’s a lot of work,” Lenox said, adding that it annually takes about 100 volunteers, which include members of the Lioness Club, the Rolla Lions Club and students from many of the fraternities and sororities at the nearby Missouri University of Science and Technology.

“It’s truly a labor of love,” she said. “We have all these volunteers come out to help us, and it’s a significant contribution of time and effort. The community puts up a lot of the displays, and it’s only through their efforts that we’re able to pull it off.”

There is plenty to look at: Lenox said it takes about 20 minutes to see the entire display, which is split into sections with names like Poinsettia Park, The Whacky Tree Farm, Penguin Village and Santa’s Farm Land. A new display this year comes from Missouri S&T and was built by students studying solar power, Lenox said.

“We have a Solar House from the S&T Solar House Group,” she said. “This will be their first time to put on a display, so we’re excited about that.”

More information about the park can be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/events/365978894492774/.

While the Rolla display is one of the largest and closest to Fort Leonard Wood, there are several others within driving distance.

Few regions of the state have as many displays to choose from as the Lake of the Ozarks, according to Tim Jacobsen, executive director of the Lake of the Ozarks Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“There are several light parks that are already open or will soon open in the lake area,” Jacobsen said.

One of the largest and longest-running is the Enchanted Village of Lights, presented by the City of Laurie, Missouri. Featuring thousands of lights and multiple scenes, the displays fill the Laurie Fairgrounds, located at 268 Fairgrounds Drive. Now in its 26th year, the park is open from 5 to 9 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and from 5 to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays now through Jan. 2. Visitors can get more information, including a preview video of the displays, at https://www.cityoflaurie.com/enchanted-village-of-lights.

Other light parks around the lake include:

— Holiday Lights in the Park features more than 100 holiday-themed displays at Osage Beach City Park, 950 Hatchery Road in Osage Beach. The park is open from 5 to 9 p.m. daily through Dec. 31 with free admission. Visitors can get directions, a video preview and more online at https://www.funlake.com/osage-beach-holiday-lights.

— The Festival of Lights is open from 5 to 10 p.m. daily at the National Shrine of Mary, 176 Marian Drive in Laurie, now through Jan. 10. Visitors can drive through the Mother’s Shrine grounds and see multiple displays.

For more information, visit https://www.funlake.com/festival-of-lights.

— The Versailles Unity Circle of Lights is open from dusk until midnight now through Jan. 1 at Versailles City Park, located at the junction of Highways 5 and 52 in Versailles, Missouri. Named for the Unity Circle monument at the park entrance, visitors can see up to 40 lighted displays, including several animated scenes.

For more information, visit the website https://www.funlake.com/versailles-unity-circle-of-lights.

For more information on these and other light parks in the Show-Me State visit the official Missouri tourism website, VisitMo.com.