Light Up Your Holiday


This year marks the 11th anniversary of Bentleyville Tour of Lights. As far as we know the website is right when it says this is, “America’s largest free walk through a lighting display.” For any Scrooges who might bah humbug the event, let’s hear from the Ghost of Bentleyville past, the Ghost of Bentleyville Present, and the Ghost of Bentleyville Yet to Come.

BentleyvilleThe Ghost of Bentleyville Past remembers it all began in 2001, when Nathan Bentley decorated his Esko, MN home. These decorations attracted enough attention for Nathan to invite visitors to walk through the display starting in 2003. This tour was complete with a Santa on weekends.

BentleyvilleNicki Rookey has worked been involved with Bentleyville since the Esko days. She is in charge of light restoration.

“Some of them need to be replaced every year because the colors fade. Some of them, the wires break,” Nicki said, “I just get them working again and brighten them up and make them pretty.”

In 2004 Nathan moved the display to his new home near Cloquet.  The festival now had a castle of 45,000 lights, 500 illuminated snowflakes, fire pits, and live entertainment. A food and toy drive, for the Salvation Army, was soon started as well.

By 2007 Bentleyville was receiving 72,000 visitors. Soon after, Nathan was thinking of taking a year off, but the newly elected Mayor Ness had other plans. In 2008 the mayor invited Nathan to try Bentleyville out at Duluth’s Bayfront Festival Park.

2008 marked the beginning of Bentleyville’s board of directors and 501c3 non-profit status. Around 600 volunteer answered the call to set up the show, which saw 150,000 visitors that year.

BentleyvilleThe Ghost of Bentleyville Present tells us just to go down and see the free display of millions of lights, spread over around 20 acres. This includes a path that goes under many lighted tunnels while circling the 128-foot animated Christmas tree. Some of the light displays include Dino Land and Thomas the Tank Engine. This year will feature a new and bigger manger scene near the family center.

BentleyvilleThe whole well-lit path is about a mile and takes about a half hour to walk, if you are in a hurry. However, you can stay longer by stopping often by the 15 fire pits—sort of cold weather stepping stones. Free hot chocolate and coffee warms the inside as well. The estimated 270 cubic yards of wood burnt each year is donated by Sappi and New Page. Visitors can also stop at the small gift shop or let their kids visit Santa. Children under ten get a free knit cap.

This year the tour will be open every night from November 22-December 27, unless cancelled because of the weather. The hours are Sunday-Thursday 5 PM to 9 PM and Friday and Saturday 5 PM to 10 PM. Parking is available for $5 at the site, but it’s free nearby if you are feeling just a little like Scrooge (and are willing to walk a few blocks!). The entire festival is wheelchair accessible.

“I just love it because it is awesome for the community and families. There are so many families out there that don’t have a lot of money to do things,” Nicki said. “To be able to come here and make the memories that people do is just awesome. I love it.”

The Ghost of Bentleyville Yet to Come points out that Bentleyville is set to continue at Bayfront Park at least through 2015. Also, later this year, and future years, many children, maybe even a Tiny Tim, will have a merrier Christmas, from the toys and food collected, at the event.