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Watertown Winter Wonderland

December 17, 2012, 10:07 PM by Erich Schaffhauser

Watertown Winter Wonderland
WATERTOWN, SD -

Most of us take time to look at Christmas lights this time of year. In Watertown, a group is hoping people touring the lights will help kids in the community.

A trip to the park to see a light display is an obvious winner for a family with two young boys.

"Yes, of course and the snow and the cold, any chance they can take to run around and be crazy, they'll take it," Lesa Larson said.

That's what Tim and Lesa Larson's two sons, Scott and Chase, did at the Watertown Winter Wonderland. They saw the lights and snow. Their parents knew there was more behind it.

"It's amazing just to have the support of your community there for you, knowing that they stand behind you," Larson said.

The Winter Wonderland is in its first year and coordinated by the Watertown Optimist Club, an association that pinpoints the needs of kids in a community and tries to meet those needs.

"So far it's been fantastic. The community has just rallied around this thing and the amount of people that are seeing this is just fantastic," club member Jim Lloyd said.

The club and businesses in the community set up the displays and have invited people to visit each weekend between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Visitors are invited to give a donation if they so choose.

The Larsons’ son Chase needed a liver transplant when he was a baby. As bills mounted, the Optimist Club held a fundraiser for them.

"To have them put together something for you, it's humbling," Larson said.

That’s a big reason Larson hopes the light display takes off and draws other donations to the group. She wants to see the club help numerous families in the community.

Visitor numbers have exceeded the group’s expectations so far. The wonderland is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights for three hours. Between 400 and 500 vehicles have been passing through the park on a given night.

"Oh we'll just see it get bigger and bigger and bigger every year. We just think we're going to have a wonderful time," Andy Hawkins said.

Donations to the display now are helping cover start up costs, which topped $10,000. The goal is to see the display become a fundraiser for the club.

Club members put a lot of time into the light exhibit, but they say it was worth it. Nathan Mack of Watertown agrees.

"I mean what they do for families and help with the surrounding areas, that's pretty cool," Mack said.

Mack is the person who donated part of his liver to Chase. If the Optimist Club can help kids in those types of situations, he wants to see them able to help others too.

"Seeing him run around makes it worth every bit of it," Mack said.

So come Christmas time, people in Watertown can be hopeful to see a light display at the park each year. In fact, if organizers get their way, it'll be bigger.

"They used to talk about Falls Park. They're going to talk about Watertown city park," Hawkins said.

And more families can talk about the ways donations brought in helped their kids.

"It's huge to be able to do something like this and carry it on in our community," Larson said.

"We've done this for the community and for the kids. And I encourage everybody to come out and take a look. It's pretty neat," Lloyd said.

It's open 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., Friday through Sunday.

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