Walking in a “Winter Wonders” Land

From November 24th to January 2nd, Sandy Hill Farm in Eliot, Maine held their second annual Winter Wonders light walk. When walking through the event, attendees were surrounded by thousands of lights and were taken on a journey celebrating the holiday season. The self-guided walk took attendees through 14 acres of farmland and this year, the length of the walk increased by 33% and the number of lights by 50%. The event had over 750,000 lights and included interactive structures like trains and playhouses. Admission tickets were $17.50 and purchasing tickets had to be done online to decrease lines at the entrance.  

The light walk began with the iconic Winter Wonders sign pictured above. Dozens of families posed in front of the light sign, one of the many photo opportunities that were offered during the walk. An attendee of the event, Annemarie Hogan, said, “there are great chances to take photos and see the magic of Christmas through lights.” In reality, any part of the walk was a great place to take pictures, but there were designated areas off the side of the path to take photos out of the way of other groups on the walk. Though, being in the way of other groups was an issue for some. Groups with upwards to fourteen people, like the one Hogan was a part of, were hard to corral through the paths. “People were certainly closer this year. It is worth seeing, but I would go earlier in the season or after Christmas to avoid crowds next year,” said Hogan. 

During the light walk, crowds were a problem due to the rise in attendance. Making the walk longer and more extravagant this year, though great for returning attendees, contributed to more crowds. Sandy Hill Farm owner Bill Widi spoke about what the farm did to control the crowds. “The first thing we do is to set a limit on the number of people we sell tickets to for a particular time slot. The second thing we do to control crowds is have a staff of people in the parking lot and along the trails to make sure everything runs smoothly.” To reduce crowding at the entrance and in the parking lot, the farm only sold tickets online. In addition, when attendees purchased tickets they had to select a time to arrive to reduce the number of people on the trails.

Having been the second year of the event, many of the people were returning attendees. “We’ve attended the event for the past two years. We first attended because we were looking for a safe place for our family to celebrate Christmas,” said attendee Joan Gross. Gross was a part of Hogan’s large group and she elaborated on how Winter Wonders is a great place to go with big groups of people. “We have a large family and could not safely gather indoors [because of the COVID-19 pandemic]. It was the perfect venue to have fun and be together safely.” With the pandemic sweeping the nation during the holiday season, it was difficult for families to get together. This, being an outdoor event, allowed people to remain socially distant.

For an event this size, it takes a lot of time and effort to set up the lights. “We have two events: Fall and winter. The fall event takes about two months to set up and the winter event takes three months. We have approximately three people working to set up each event. But we do work year-round to create some of the displays for each event,” said Widi. As a small farm, only having a few employees to set up lights may be challenging, but Sandy Hill works year-round to make sure the event goes off without a hitch.

Special to this year’s event were  the interactive structures. There was a train that kids were able to ring the bell on, a playhouse (pictured above), and many more interactive areas. Gross spoke about her grandchildren’s enjoyment with the structures. “The biggest change I noticed from last year to this year was the exhibits that the children could climb onto and into. That was the highlight for the youngest children,” she said. Another fan favorite was the train, where children could drive and ride the train with others. There was also a covered train car that was a very popular area for photos.

Being a smaller farm may come with its challenges, but Sandy Hill still decided to take on a large event. “The event started in the fall of 2020. The main reason that we started the event was to bring joy to people in the area during the fall and winter holidays. With Covid in 2020, we believe there was a need to lift the spirits of people in the area. We also use any money generated to keep the farm going,” said Widi. The event got lots of publicity this year and it gave light to all the other events the farm does.

Christmas time is not the only time Sandy Hill Farm wants to spread cheer. The farm has several other events, even others with lights. “It starts out with an Easter Egg Hunt for young children. Then, we have a fall event that runs from mid-September through Halloween. The third event is the Winter Wonders holiday light show. Both the fall and winter events are light show displays” said Widi. This year’s theme for the fall event is “Out of this World” and will feature alien themes, as well.

This year was a success for Sandy Hill Farm with attendance to Winter Wonders through the roof, and the farm has high hopes for the future. “We would like to ultimately be the largest and most fun light show in New England. That is the vision. If we can reach that vision, then we bring as much joy as possible to the people in the region.” Tickets to Winter Wonders are no longer on sale, but their next event, the Egg Treasure Hunt, will begin April 9th, 2022. To support the farm, join them next year for their third annual Winter Wonder light walk, anticipated to begin around the end of November, 2022.