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Finding Minnesota: Mankato’s Million Lights

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(credit: CBS) Mike Binkley
Mike Binkley has been covering Minnesota news for more than 25 year...
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    MANKATO (WCCO) — About 80 miles from the Twin Cities is a holiday spectacle that combines brilliant lights with the spirit of giving.

    In just its third year, the Kiwanis Holiday Lights display in Mankato has become one of the state’s largest. This year, it features 1.2 million lights, and there’s still no admission charge.

    Scott Wojcik, a self-described “Christmas fanatic,” came up with the idea a few years ago when he saw a giant holiday lights display in his hometown of Marshfield, Wisconsin.

    At the time, Wojcik was president of the Mankato Kiwanis Club.

    “With my volunteer group, I said ‘you know what, guys, I think we can pull this off,’” he said. “We’ve got the drive and the commitment. And sure enough, it’s a reality now.”

    It’s an example of what can happen when opportunity meets up with generosity.

    “We had over 100,000 people come through Sibley Park last year,” Wojcik said, “and that’s during the winter time where it’s normally very quiet around Mankato.

    “The walking tunnel and the driving tunnel are all synchronized to lights and to music so you can either walk and listen to it outside or you can be in your car and tune into a radio station that plays the music,” Wojcik added.

    The Kiwanis Holiday Lights display happens because of big donations from local companies and a big turnout from volunteers.

    People from 72 nonprofits keep things running each night. The groups, in turn, benefit when visitors donate food or money at the gate.

    There’s still room in the park for expansion, assuming they can keep lining up volunteers and the miles of extension cords.

    “Last year, we figured it was about six miles and this year we’re probably closer to eight,” said Kyle Mrozek, treasurer of Kiwanis Holiday Lights.

    It’s the power of light and the power of community that promise to make this a long-lasting gift to the area.

    “But it’s also to put Mankato on the map as a regional center,” Mrozek said, “and to help draw people in.”

    Since those 1.2 million lights are LEDs, organizers say they operate the park for less than $50 a night.

    In 2013, they took in more than 15 tons of food donations and gave $40,000 to nonprofit groups.

    Do you have a Finding Minnesota idea? Let us know here.

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