Dickinson Festival of Lights Opens Amid Harvey Recovery

Paul Hopkins Park in Dickinson transformed into a lighted winter wonderland just three months after the park — and much of the community — was inundated with floodwaters from Hurricane Harvey.

The Galveston County Daily News reports the city kicked off its popular annual event, Dickinson Festival of Lights, on Saturday with hundreds of people showing up to walk the park and start the holiday season. The festival, celebrating its 20th year, runs through Dec. 23.

Organizers hung fewer lights this year because of Harvey's toll on the city and having fewer days to plan, said Carolyn Suderman, a volunteer and organizer for the festival. Even so, thousands of lights adorned the park's walkways.

"It's not as big as we wanted, but I think it looks amazing considering all that's happened," Suderman said. "Seeing people come out and enjoy themselves is everything. We lost everything in Harvey, but it's good to know there's still joy in the world."

Hurricane Harvey made landfall Aug. 25 in Rockport about 200 miles south of Dickinson, but in the days that followed, it dumped rain, swelled bayous and flooded thousands of homes in the area. An estimated 80 percent of homes in Dickinson were badly flooded and many residents are still recovering from the storm.

Suderman and her husband, Dickinson Councilman Charles Suderman, were staying with her dad while their home undergoes repairs, she said. Holding the festival this year felt especially important for establishing some sense of normalcy in the community as so many residents are displaced, she said.

"To me, that's what community spirit is all about," she said.

Organizers started planning for the festival nearly as soon as the floodwaters receded. Volunteers began hanging lights, working one day a weekend throughout October and November and every day during the week before the festival, Suderman said.

Usually volunteers work both days of the weekend, but the board wanted to give people a day to work on their homes, she said. With fewer days to prepare, the board decided to host a slightly smaller festival this year.

Attendees didn't think anything was amiss.

"It's impressive that they have all of this up" given the storm, said Maria Gonzalez, who attended Saturday from Baytown with about 10 family members.

For Dickinson residents hit hard by Harvey, the return of the Festival of Lights was special. Melinda Miller lost most of her belongings in Harvey and her dad died shortly after the storm. It's been a tough year, she said.

But the festival of lights was something to enjoy, she said.

"I love it every year," Miller said. "Christmas is my favorite time of the year and we just love coming here. It's so good for the community they still had it."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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