WALKER — Hearty holiday revelers braved one of the coldest nights of the year Dec. 9 for the opportunity to gather in Sydney Hutchinson Park to greet Santa and Mrs. Claus, gulp down cups of hot chocolate, nibble on cookies and cotton candy, admire the Christmas lights and enjoy meeting and greeting friends, kin and neighbors.
Walker’s annual Santa In The Park holiday tradition went on as scheduled. Bundled-up visitors crowded park grounds that were festooned with patches of snow, remnants of an unexpectedly heavy snowfall in Southeast Louisiana that fell the previous day.
Mayor Jimmy Watson said that because all plans had been completed by the Walker Parks and Recreation Department, the decision was made to go forward with Santa In The Park despite the more-than-chilly weather. Volunteers from Walker Baptist Church, who supplied the hot chocolate, cookies, cotton candy and face painting, had also made their preparations for the event, Watson added.
Youngsters lined up to visit with Santa and Mrs. Claus, the face painters stayed busy, and team members from Walker Baptist Church poured steaming cups of hot chocolate which were welcome on the cold night.
Assessing the evening’s event, Watson said his city has come a long way since the floods of August 2016. The city held Santa In The Park last year, Watson said, but added that many families were still affected by the flood at Christmastime in 2016.
‘We’re back," Watson said. " … We held our Christmas Parade earlier, and it was quite a success. It’s good that we are in Sydney Hutchinson Park because we have a lot going on here. Usually, the area would be better lighted than it is tonight, but we are in the process of installing all new lights on our ballfields, so it’s not as bright as usual. When the new lights are all installed, it will be much brighter for our ballgames.”
He said the city will have to make a decision about when to hold the annual Christmas Parade before next year. "We did a survey, and the vote was 205 to 197 to hold a day parade … so opinion is nearly split. The main reason I think people prefer a day parade is because our streets are not well lighted. We’ll see.”
The Santa In the Park festival was held close to the nearly completed Challenger Field. Watson said that new bathrooms for the field will be built soon, handicapped parking slots will be installed and other construction work will be completed. He said he anticipates that Challenger Field will be formally dedicated “with a big, big ceremony” by about April 1.
The mayor said Walker fared well with the snow. Some power outages were reported, but no major problems were encountered, he said. "We had our crews out all weekend, and we handled the snow very well.”
Watson said that Bryan Farlow, in charge of special events, and Walker Parks and Recreation Director Tracey Westmoreland made preparations for Santa In the Park.
Among those visiting Santa Claus were Slade and Rylan Varnado. Their parents, Courtney and Ryan Varnado, said that they were members of the Walker Baptist Church and that they came out to support Santa In The Park. Courtney Varnado, a Sunday school teacher, said of the event, “This is something special for the community that our church supports, and I think it is a good thing. Santa In The Park brings the community together where all can enjoy fun and fellowship.”
Linda McCauchey, who supervised the volunteers who prepared the hot chocolate, said that the effort was “a work of love.” McCauchey said her team prepared 1,000 cups of hot chocolate.
“We do it because it is part of our outreach ministry," she said. " … We always have fun helping with Santa In The Park … it’s one of our special contributions to our community.”