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Kennywood lights up the season in new ways

| Friday, Nov. 23, 2012, 5:32 a.m.
Kennywood employees Corey Alukonis and David Pollock load a pine tree onto a utility vehicle as the park prepares for its second annual Kennywood Holiday Lights season, which opens today at 5:30 p.m. Eric Slagle | Daily News
Kennywood employees Twyla Evans, Brittany Carman and Carol Craig apportion containers of candy sprinkles for a cookie decorating stand inside the park’s Parkside Café. It’s one of many holiday themed attractions at the park’s second annual Holiday Lights season, which begins tonight and runs through Dec. 30. Eric Slagle | Daily News
Model railroad fans won’t want to miss a display by the Pittsburgh Independent Hi-Railers that is set up in Kennywood’s Parkside Café as part of the amusement parks celebration of Holiday Lights today through Dec. 30. Eric Slagle | Daily News
Kennywood Holiday Lights runs tonight through Dec. 30. The park’s second annual celebration of the season features scenic outdoor lighting displays, indoor activities for children, rides, shows and holiday snacks. Eric Slagle | Daily News

In its opening season last year, Kennywood Holiday Lights drew thousands of visitors for each of its nine evenings.

This year, the West Mifflin amusement park has increased the seasonal celebration of light to include 11 more nights, activities and space in the park.

Park spokesman Jeff Filicko said there is one other thing the park wouldn't mind adding this year: snow.

“We didn't get one (laying snow) last year,” said Filicko, recalling the mild winter. Not that the park is hoping for a blizzard or anything but Filicko said he thinks a dusting of snow would make the seasonal transformation of the park complete.

Kennywood Holiday Lights opens today at 5:30 p.m. and continues every Friday, Saturday and Sunday through Dec. 30, plus Dec. 26 and 27, from 5-9 p.m.

“It's such a different feel for the park,” Filicko said of the seasonal goings-on, which include scenic outdoor lighting displays, indoor activities for children, rides, shows, and holiday snacks. Filicko noted that Kennywood employees have been working at a brisk pace all month to convert the park from its Phantom Fright Nights look for Halloween to its present winter lights motif.

“We just have hundreds of thousands of lights and everything is geared towards kids,” said Filicko.

Getting back to practical matters, park lanes are dotted with salt containers in the event snow and slippery weather does arrive. Crews have also added temporary walls and space heaters to park pavilions to give strollers places of respite from the cold.

Visitors will find warmth and more at the Parkside Café. The park landmark will be home to an impressive model railroad display set up by the Pittsburgh Independent Hi-Railers model railroad club and cookie decorating activities featuring cookies made by the Apple Cookie & Chocolate Company of Turtle Creek.

Santa Claus will call the loading gate for the Racer rollercoaster home. Kids can get their pictures taken with Santa in a special coaster car built for the occasion.

The park has added rides. The Turtle is open, as is interactive haunted house Ghostwood Estate. Ghostwood has a special holiday theme.

“It's still kind of scary but it's also Christmas,” said Marie Ruby, who is director of ride operations.

Other rides include the Paratrooper, Merry-Go-Round and the Gingerbread Express railroad.

Ruby said the park is trying to make the holiday program something that is family oriented and appeals to people of all ages. Plenty of work by regular and seasonal employees has gone into the transformation, but Ruby said meeting the deadline for today's opening has not been a problem because the project has been ahead of schedule.

Park characters Kenny Kangaroo and Arrow the Kennywood sign, plus gingerbread men, elves and snowmen will roam the park and host activities at the Kennyville Stage and by the Jack Rabbit.

There will be regular performances by school and community choir groups at the Sound of the Holidays stage. The park is making one of its enclosed pavilions available for rental during.

The festival has been expanded to include sections of the park around Kennyville Stage and the original Potato Patch.

The park's midway is festooned with lights and it leads to the lagoon where 10-minute light shows occur every half hour. The park is decorated with more than 50 live pine trees donated by the Indiana Tree Growers Association.

Filicko said most of the park's food stands will be open and selling special seasonal products, though park favorites like Potato Patch Fries and corn dogs will be available.

Admission to Kennywood Holiday Lights is $14.99 plus tax. Tickets bought in advance at Giant Eagle are $2 less. Children 2 and younger are free. Parking is also free.

Eric Slagle is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1966,

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