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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Manito Park’s drive-thru Christmas lights were a big hit this year

An estimated 66,000 people packed into the old front-wheel family sleigh to take in holiday lights strewn throughout Manito Park earlier this month.

That’s according to a car count conducted by the Spokane Parks Department, which put on the display in partnership with the nonprofit Friends of Manito group. The Enchanted Garden Drive-Thru Holiday Lights exhibit took the place of an annual decking of the plants inside the Gaiser Conservatory, and was held under the state’s rules for drive-in theaters for preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Jesse Tinsley - The Spokesman-Review

“It was so cool to have the kids there, and hearing their reactions to seeing Santa,” said Fianna Dickson, communication manager for the parks department, who worked at the free event that was held Dec. 11-20.

The annual Gaiser Conservatory show usually brings in about 13,000 people, according to the Parks department. Along with the additional attendance came some concerns about traffic. Dickson said there were “a relatively small number of complaints” about traffic backups on Grand Boulevard and Bernard Street during the heaviest nights of attendance.

On Dec. 11, 12, 18 and 19, more than 1,700 cars traveled the half-mile decorated loop, according to statistics shared by the Parks Department.

Mary Winkes, interim chair of the Manito/Cannon Hill Neighborhood Council, said she hadn’t heard any complaints about traffic from neighbors. She was able to see the lights from her home across the street from the park on 17th Avenue, she said, but didn’t drive through because of the long lines.

“I thought it was great,” Winkes said. “It gave people a way to celebrate safely.”

Dickson said the Parks Department had learned a few traffic control lessons that it would incorporate in the future, should the display need to once again be conducted as a drive-thru.

The department’s offerings in 2020 aren’t complete, however. In partnership with several sponsors, the Parks Department will put on four drive-in firework shows in town on New Year’s Eve beginning at 9 p.m.

Lots for the free shows will open at 7 p.m. They will be held at Avista Stadium, 602 N. Havana St.; Ferris High School, 3020 E. 37th Ave.; Merkel Sports Complex, 5701 N. Assembly St.; and Plante’s Ferry Sports Stadium, 12320 E. Upriver Drive.

The firework shows are a partnership between Spokane Parks, Spokane County, the Spokane Indians baseball club and Spokane Public Schools.

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