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Ashland gets spruced up for Festival of Light

 Posted: 2:00 AM November 29, 2013

With a little help from Santa and Mrs. Claus every year, Stacy Page puts the bright in Ashland's annual Festival of Light.

Page's crew hangs all of the holiday decorations for the Ashland Chamber of Commerce, which will host the Festival of Light parade and Grand Illumination in downtown Ashland for the 21st year in a row on Friday.

Live music will kick off on the Ashland Plaza at 1 p.m. and run until the parade begins at 5 p.m.

If you go

What: Festival of Light parade and Grand Illumination

Where: Ashland Plaza

When: Friday, Nov. 29; live music begins at 1 p.m.; the parade begins at 5 p.m., followed by the Grand Illumination

What else: Santa will hear gift wishes from children and pose for photographs at the Black Swan Theater until 8 p.m.

The Grand Illumination will begin immediately after the parade, and Santa will be in Ashland to hear gift wishes from children and pose for photographs at the Black Swan Theatre until 8 p.m.

The celebration continues throughout the holiday season, but the parade and Santa's flick of the Grand Illumination switch draws more than 10,000 revelers to the downtown area each year, the chamber estimates.

Page, owner of Holiday Illuminations and GreenTime Landscaping, has been stringing up the 1-million-light spectacle in downtown Ashland for the last 14 years, and although about 90 percent of local businesses keep their holiday lights up all year, there are still more than 100,000 lights to hang annually, he said.

On a cold morning two weeks ago, while the Plaza was still waking up, Page was standing high on a crane platform hanging lights on Alex's Plaza Restaurant and Bar. He is afraid of heights, he admitted.

"I have to get over it every day — you just have to do it. Each year gets a little easier, but I just hate being up in this crane," he said. "It's always worth it though ... everyone seems to like it."

During Santa's Grand Illumination countdown, which begins as soon as the parade concludes at the Ashland Plaza, Page and a handful of helpers are stationed throughout the area — ready to plug in their section of downtown's light display when Santa and the crowd hit zero.

"It's not Santa turning on all those lights from the Plaza," said Will Engel, who started working with Page last year.

Engel, 26, was stationed on top of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's administration building last year, his first time hitting the Grand Illumination switch, and he ran into some difficulties.

"I don't know what happened. My timers weren't working, but I got it figured out," he said.

During the Grand Illumination, Page is typically running around downtown frantically making sure every light turns on and fixing those that don't.

"It's fun, but something usually always goes wrong," he said, chuckling. "Each building has its own power source " it can be a little tricky."

The first time Page hung the lights, a decade and a half ago, "I got them all up," he said, "but I didn't know what I was doing. We're pretty good now."

The downtown area takes about three weeks to a month to complete, Page said, with the Plaza storefronts taking about a week of that effort. To get an idea of many lights that is, all of the light strands connected together would stretch for about 38 miles.

Page and his crew also hang 41 historic, bright-red, solar-powered LED light lanterns, which the Chamber of Commerce had refurbished locally last year, said Katharine Flanagan, marketing director for the Ashland chamber.

Page also hangs the chamber's 50 giant holiday wreaths and the more than 30 light-up snowflake decorations that hang on Ashland lampposts.

"It's stressful and kind of takes the fun out of Thanksgiving for me, but it's such a joy when everything is up," Page said. "It puts everyone in such a good mood."

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-776-4471 or swheeler@mailtribune.com.


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