Christmas in the Pines begins this weekend at the Crook County Fairgrounds

by: CENTRAL OREGONIAN FILE PHOTO - Two weeks ago, volunteers staged many of the decorations shown, which wil be displayed starting Saturday.

Thanks to a dedicated group of community volunteers, Prineville residents won’t have to travel far this year to view a drive-through display of Christmas lights.

Instead, they can take a short trip to the Crook County Fairgrounds and experience Christmas in the Pines — an event that will likely become an annual Prineville tradition.

Once visitors enter the fairgrounds at its South Main Street entrance, they'll be greeted by hundreds of strings of lights arranged on a myriad of Christmas figures and shapes — a display guaranteed to please young and old alike.

Even the event organizers are amazed by what has been accomplished.

“It’s gone beyond what I thought it would the first year,” said committee member Debbie Smith. “It’s really exciting. I can’t wait to see the little kids’ faces when they see this.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by volunteer Stan Flynn.

“I just hoped that we would have just a nice display of lights, a nice drive-through,” he said. “There’s so many places that have them, and we didn’t. I didn’t think it was going to turn out as good as it did. We have really nice, lighted displays that will last a long time. I am totally excited. If I had time, I would start decorating my house already.”

Donna White — called committee chair by some, but who maintained she’s just a worker — said her vision was to have a local place for families to see the lights.

“The more we can stay local and provide entertainment to the families here in town, (the better), and who knows, we might even draw from other areas.”

The seed for Christmas in the Pines was planted last year, but the exact details of the planting are up for discussion. It doesn't matter, because, according to Smith, “The next thing I knew, we were talking about a bunch of us bringing Christmas to the fairgrounds,” and according to Brad Bartlett, “We just took the bull by the horns and started runnin’, not knowin’ what it was going to grow into.”

Before long, a committee of about 25 volunteers was formed, according to Smith, consisting of a “highly-motivated group” of business owners, teachers, bankers, Kiwanians, Rotarians, and friends.

Motivation was key.

“The committee has worked all year long,” said Bartlett, “on plywood cutouts, on painting the plywood cutouts, on wrapping everything we've got with lights, and trying to drum up extension cords. Nobody was very interested in helping, or even wanting to think about Christmas in the summertime. That crew really did work. It was all summer long.”

And according to White, the volunteers had no choice as long as Smith was involved.

“Even if you thought you were going to do something else, like a vacation or yard work, she’d (Smith) bring you right back in. She’s been very motivated to make this happen.”

Bartlett stressed that Christmas in the Pines is also a way to honor former residents who poured themselves into the community, including Mike Rachor, who passed away a couple of years ago. As a kid in middle school, Rachor built a 25-foot long, metal “Merry Christmas” sign that his family hung on the end of an irrigation pivot at their Powell Butte farm.

“The family donated that to us,” said Bartlett. “So that’s at the entrance of the fairgrounds. It’s a way to help memorialize Mike Rachor.”

Also, according to Bartlett, Gary and Ramona Romine brought a plywood cut-out of a Christmas train to the fairgrounds — a family treasure that belonged to Gary’s father. And just before she passed away, Carolyn Severance brought down some holiday decorations as well.

Then there’s a decoration that was built specifically to honor a contributor who has since passed away.

“We have decorated a poinsettia tree to honor Carol Cavanaugh, who truly loved Christmas,” said Smith. “Last spring, Carol taught us how to present ‘A Tea Party’ as a fundraiser. This event allowed us to purchase 85 wire characters we applied lights to.”

“So it’s kind of a tribute — past, and future, and present,” said Bartlett.

Even though the display won’t open to the public until after the Christmas parade tomorrow evening, Christmas in the Pines committee members are already planning for next year and the years to come.

Bartlett has big plans.

“Ultimately, the end result, and it’s going to take years in the making,” he said, “I think we could get two-and-a-half miles of drive-through in there, if we go completely around the racetrack, and inside the racetrack, and around the barns and buildings.”

White said she'd like to see a skating rink and a bonfire — and more volunteers.

“I hope this becomes an annual event that just grows every year. The volunteerism in this community has been amazing, and with that kind of cooperation, I don't see any reason why it won't grow every year. It’s going to be fantastic.”

“We would love to have the whole community involved in this,” added Smith, “because this isn't just a group or a personal thing — it’s about all of us. It’s about Prineville. If we can make this a success, maybe we can get the rest of Prineville lit up. That's my goal, (that) when people drive into town, (they can) see that we’re a community. Come visit.”

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