WISTER–A popular Christmas season tradition may burn out this year at Wister Lake State Park due to the lack of manpower.
The Christmas Lights display on Quarry Island is in endangered after park officials informed organizers that the park staff would no longer help put up the display or help in any manner that might require manpower from any park employee.
“This is an extremely disappointing turn of events”, said Karen Wages with the Poteau Chamber of Commerce. The park has been the ideal place for the display that has been drawing people from the surrounding states.
“The visitors have been spending money in our communities during their visit. Some visitors have made the light display a part of their annual Christmas season experience and have been visiting our stores and restaurants in Wister, Poteau, Heavener and surrounding areas.”
The 30-foot tall lighted Statue of Liberty display is one of a kind in the state. Visitors boast about how the display looks like our own Staten Island. Each year the money received by donations is returned to the project by purchasing wiring, equipment etc. Organizers try to purchase a new animated light display adding more for visitors to see each holiday season.
The tour of lights begins on the first weekend of December and runs until Christmas day. Carriage Rides with several appearances from Santa and Mrs. Claus keep people calling Poteau Chamber asking questions about times and dates.
The display began in 2003 to help bring visitors to the park during the winter months when the usage of the park is low and draw people into the area to share in the Christmas season.
“The display has grown every year as well with the number of people who drive through it,” Wages said. “Last year, the display had over 6,000 visitors and took in more than $6,000.00 in donations.”
The display has become a favorite Christmas Tradition for those that return with their children and grand children.
“Wister Lake Lights On The Island” is known around several states,” she said. “Poteau Chamber of Commerce , LeFlore County Development Coalition and The City of Poteau spend several thousand dollars each year advertising the event in travel magazines such as Kiamichi Country and the Oklahoma State Travel Guide and Oklahoma Travel & Tourism website. The attendance has grown into Arkansas due to the TV and News Paper advertisement with the Fort Smith and Mena media partners.”
Area businesses have helped sponsor the display and helped to man the gates every year from the beginning. The cost to the park has only been the cost of manpower to help put up the lights and to turn them on and off. All other cost has been covered by sponsorships and donations from area residents who have enjoyed the Christmas display.
“We have even received lights donations from visitors from Texas who rent cabins every year in the park during Christmas because of the lights,” Wages said. “Our local people also help by donating lights. Poteau High School art students helps each year by painting new displays. One thing about this project it is a community effort.”
In order to continue the tradition, organizers are seeking volunteers who can help with the putting up the display.
“It’s going to require us to find additional sources of labor other than the help of park employees and inmates since park officials have made it clear that they will not participate this year,” said Wages.
Those interested in helping save the display should contact the Poteau Chamber of Commerce at (918) 647-9178