LET’S TALK WITH JAY DOWNS

Dismantling the Holiday Lights on the River

brantin@thestate.comJanuary 5, 2014 

— Let’s Talk — Dismantling the Holiday Lights on the River

The lights are coming down – and coming down, and coming down – at Saluda Shoals Park.

Park workers began the annual take-down operations last week following the Holiday Lights on the River drive-through event that featured several hundred thousand lights and more than 100 scenes, while attracting more than 16,000 vehicles.

The work is expected to take about a month. The State talked with Jay Downs, superintendent of operations and facilities for the Irmo Chapin Recreation Commission, about what’s involved in storing things just right so everything is ready for next year.

How does the takedown process generally work?

“First come down the electrical components. Then things all go with certain displays in different areas so they are all tagged and inventoried. What goes out first (next season), will come in (storage) last – that’s all the little displays and figures and trees. And then we start bringing in the larger displays. We leave a bay open for the displays that have to be repaired. A lot of those repairs are made as we are bringing the displays in.”

And every single light comes down?

“Being an environmental park, we don’t leave lights in trees. It’s not natural.”

What is the most challenging part of this operation?

“It won’t be what you think. It’s coordinating the holiday lights with the aspects of everything else that goes on around here all year.”

For example?

“These lights go up around Labor Day, when the grass is still growing (which requires the park to be very careful when cutting grass). It’s just coordinating with all the other things that we do.”

Is this when the staff identifies what displays need repairs?

“The light displays are evaluated every evening throughout the length of the show. We do a lot of the repairs throughout the program. We do them in place or we’ll take them down. But they constantly have to be managed. For some of the displays that have reached the end of their lives, we will dismantle them (at the end of each season) and the parts will be used for future displays.”

What is your favorite light display?

“Mine is the train. They designed it to represent each year that the Holiday Lights has been running. The cars have all been designed in-house by the staff. Each car tells a story and the staff surprises us with it each year. It gets longer and longer.”

When will the staff begin pulling the lights out for next year?

“We start putting lights up right after Labor Day, but the preparation for it takes place year-round. It’s hard when we start talking about that stuff in June and July when it’s 100 degrees out there. (But) we have found extension cords in the trees (in the summer).”

So do you have to take down lights at your home as well?

“Oh yes. I tell my wife it’s the loneliest job in the world. Nobody goes out there to help me put them up and nobody goes out there to take them down, but they want them.”

Reach Rantin at (803) 771-8306.

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