Holiday tradition to soon power off

Courtesy: Roper Mountain Holiday Lights website

The Roper Mountain Holiday Lights will go dark December 30th 2017, not just for the season, but forever.

This is the 26th and final year of the joint venture by the Rotary Club of Greenville and the Roper Mountain Science Center Association.

Both non-profits say it’s a bitter sweet time. 7News looked into what’s behind the end of this Upstate tradition and how you can be a part of a new chapter that will keep these lights burning bright.

Visitors who have been coming to since they were children are sad to see it end.

“It was always something I enjoyed. This is it’s last year and it’s really sad, something we used to do as a family every year,” said Sara Perry from Greenville.

But of all the people who will miss The Roper Mountain Holiday Lights, there is perhaps no one more conflicted than Garrett Hawk, the 20 year old man who has turned them on every evening for years now.

“I still remember me coming here when I was 5-6 years old and looking at the lights. And the joy and excitement that I felt I want the kids now to feel,” said Hawk.

The setup and teardown alone takes 7,000 volunteer hours. Hawk started donating his time at age 10.

Now he’s worked his way up to a seasonal paid gig, but still puts in about 100 volunteer hours a year.

“I look at a light, and I go, is that the right color, and if not, I go find the right color to put in it. I want to make sure everything is perfect for the kids for the families for the community. I want people to leave here with a big smile on their face. I just, I love it,” said Hawk.

It’s precisely because Hawk’s passion and dedication for these christmas lights is so rare, that organizers have had to make a tough decision after years of struggling to find volunteers.

“This is not a decision that was made lightly, what went into this was looking at how many volunteers this requires every single year, and on top of that, we’re also dealing with professional light shows in the area now,” said Laura Moore, on the Rotary Club of Greenville Board of Directors.

The event started with only 3 displays including this Frosty the Snowman, back when they charged just $3 for entry.

Now there are 72 displays, 214 light panels, 65,000 bulbs, and it all takes 900 volunteers. It grew so big, it lead to a burn out.

So while this year marks the end of a radiant era in the Upstate, 2018 is the beginning of new life for each display. They are all up for auction online until January 2nd, so each light can find a new home.

There is one light fixture that will remain high up on the mountain.

“The Roper Mountain star is not up for sale. The star has been refurbished. It looks better than ever. And it will remain as a beacon for the holidays for years to come,” said Thomas Riddle, the Assistant Director of The Roper Mountain Science Center.

Hawk says the end hasn’t soaked in yet.

“There’s definitely going to be a hole in my heart,” said Hawk.

But after a decade of volunteer work, he has worked out a deal to trade in paid hours for his favorite display, The Candy Cane Factory.

“The joy, just having a piece of history with me from here is amazing. It makes everything worth while, not even being here next year, cause it will still be with me. That’s all I’m putting up next year. I’m putting it up and calling it done,” said Hawk.

Since it began in 1991 the event has raised more than $2,500,000 for local charities. Both the rotary and the science center association say they hope to create new events for future holidays and fundraising.

Frosty’s wave goodbye after 26 years of waving hello, is bitter sweet.

But the spirit of the holidays will live on knowing the lights will continue to shine.