Volunteers switch on light show Recreation groups hope to benefit from Fort Howard display

November 28, 1998|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Opening night of Baltimore County's Fantasy of Lights display at Fort Howard Park drew scant turnout, but the volunteers operating the show for the first time hope Thanksgiving's poor attendance isn't the precursor for the 40-night run.

"I'm not worried yet," said Greg Kirkpatrick, 51, past president of the Edgemere-Sparrows Point Recreation Council and administrator of the light show.

"I can't see how it could be a bust. The county set it up for nothing, the volunteers don't cost us, and the only cost is the heat in the [refreshment and entertainment] tent," he said.

Only 79 vehicles went through Thanksgiving night.

Baltimore County officials once hoped the Fort Howard show -- one of four in the area -- would make a profit that would bolster county Recreation Department revenues. But Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties' displays have suffered from thefts by employees, and, with stagnant attendance, Columbia's show made money last year after expenses were cut.

After two years of losing money, Baltimore County recreation officials turned the show's operation over to volunteer groups. Last year, the county lost $16,000, with only 11,000 vehicles visiting the isolated southeastern county park, compared with the 20,000 that were predicted.

Although the county gets part of any proceeds to pay off the $500,000 cost of buying the lights and equipping the park, each of the 13 southeastern county recreation councils hopes to bank $4,000 to $5,000.

"We're optimistic, in all honesty," said Bob Bendler, deputy county recreation director. "Attendance picks up considerably as you get closer to the holidays."

The councils reduced the entrance fee this year from $10 to $7 per vehicle and hope to lure visitors with the heated tent with catered refreshments, and Santa Claus, who will be present Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Pictures of children with Santa will cost $3.

The display, next to Fort Howard veterans hospital, at the southern tip of Route 20, off Beltway Exit 42, is open from 5: 30 p.m. to 9: 30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and one extra hour, until 10: 30 p.m. Friday and Saturday nights, through Jan. 3.

Pub Date: 11/28/98

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