Columbia woods still aglow

Display: Symphony of Lights fund-raiser aims to attract several thousand more vehicles before its close Sunday night.

January 02, 2003|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SUN STAFF

As the holidays wind down, a seasonal glow remains at the Symphony of Lights display in Columbia.

From its opening Nov. 25 through Monday, 16,000 cars, truck and buses drove past the 70 stationary and animated lighted figures. By the time the exhibit closes Sunday night, organizers hope to have reached 20,000 vehicles.

In Symphony of Lights' ninth year, "we are tracking really closely to the last few years," in attendance, said Rachel Miller, associate director of the Howard Hospital Foundation, which sponsors the event. The strong numbers are in spite of a shorter holiday season.

The event also lost a night when a power outage struck Friday for the first time in Symphony of Lights' history. Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. repaired the problem in time to open Saturday.

"I guess people are in the holiday spirit," said Brad Canfield, president of Event Consulting and Management Inc., which assembles and runs the light display.

Each year, families pile into their cars to drive along the 1.4-mile wooded path at Symphony Woods and enjoy the bears, elves, toy soldiers, trains, penguins, boats, candy canes, presents, books, instruments and many other figures made of multicolored lights.

This year, using a sequence of blinking lights, deer appear to leap over the road, a bear seems to fly down a ski jump and toy soldiers send cannon balls arching over the cars below.

It took eight men seven weeks to put together the display, said Canfield. Before it opened, workers had to replace 25,000 light bulbs.

Many of the pieces are returning from last year, but even prebuilt forms require assembly, some with structures up to 35 feet tall, Canfield said.

"This is really an important fund-raiser. It is great the way the community has come to support it," Miller said. During the past eight years, Symphony of Lights has raised $700,000 for Howard County General Hospital.

Last year, the event raised a record $112,000. This year, Miller would like to see $100,000 in proceeds.

The money will go to benefit the hospital's labor and delivery, neonatal intensive care and pediatric units, all of which opened this summer with state-of-the-art equipment and attractive new rooms and furnishings.

The hospital handles 3,000 births a year, placing it fifth in the state, Miller said. Of those babies, 10 percent require care in the neonatal unit.

One thing visitors to Symphony of Lights enjoy each year is a contest. In the past, guests have been asked to find the one purple light bulb, or count packages and elves. This year, 13 lighted letters were among the displays.

People who find them and unscramble them to spell a phrase will be entered in a drawing for limousine service and dinner at the Crab Shanty Restaurant in Ellicott City.

"I think this event has just become a real community seasonal tradition," Miller said.

The Morrissey family of Columbia plans to go before this weekend, making this the fifth year they have enjoyed the event.

"It is a family outing that gets us out of the house during the holidays," said Joe Morrissey, 42, who runs the food service department at Mount Washington Pediatric Hospital.

Morrissey and his wife, Alison, 40, who is director of advancement at Norbel School, spotted the lights from the road one year and stopped to take a look. Now, it is an annual outing for them and daughters Rachael, 8, and Cali, 7. They usually go when Joe's parents are in town.

They enjoy spotting new displays - or ones they just didn't notice the year before - and pointing out favorites, like Santa's workshop.

"We like driving through neighborhoods looking at [the lights on] people's houses," Joe Morrissey said. "This is just more advanced."

He added, "It kind of makes the holiday complete."

Symphony of Lights is open daily from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. through Sunday at Symphony Woods, starting at the Broken Land Parkway entrance. Information: 410-740-7666.

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