Note: Event rescheduled for July 11.
Don’t call the fire department, NASA or producers of the rebooted “X Files” series if you see thousands of gold lights glowing in the night sky above El Dorado on Saturday. They’re Chinese lanterns, launched by what organizers of Lantern Fest hope are thousands of enthralled visitors.
“It’s an amazing show,” said Spencer Humiston of Lantern Fest, which is also the name of the Salt Lake City company behind the event.
In partnership with the El Dorado Convention and Visitors Bureau, the company is holding the festival at El Dorado State Park, below the dam by the Walnut River amphitheater.
Doors open at 3 p.m. Before launching the lanterns, the festival will feature music and dancing, face-painting, children’s activities, food vendors, a beer garden and fresh-made s’mores. Each ticket holder gets the makings for four of the melty marshmallow, chocolate and graham cracker treats, and Lantern Fest supplies about a hundred small grills. Susie Brown, a Nashville singer who’s appeared at the Grand Ole Opry and CMA Fest, will perform.
“You can hang out with your friends, socialize, listen to music, make your s’mores and then everybody sets off their Chinese lanterns at the same time,” said Jennifer Cook, marketing director for the city of El Dorado. “The pictures make it look like a really cool event.”
And one the city didn’t want to pass up once it heard the pitch from Lantern Fest. The company, which stages events across the country, requires about 100 to 150 local volunteers for each Lantern Fest. In return, Lantern Fest donates $60 per volunteer to local charities. In El Dorado, the American Cancer Society, United Way and El Dorado youth recreation programs will benefit.
“They bring the event, and we just help coordinate the site and help promote it,” Cook said.
The lake and state park will already be a busy place. About 50,000 to 60,000 people typically visit over Memorial Day weekend, Cook said. Because of that, organizers have capped attendance at Lantern Fest to 2,500.
Chinese lanterns go back centuries in Asian culture. They’re essentially small hot air balloons made of paper, often sent up in memory of loved ones or as the equivalent of throwing a coin in a wishing well.
Cook said volunteer firefighters will be on hand even though the lanterns themselves don’t present a fire hazard. Rather than an open flame, the lanterns use a combustible material to create heat.
Humiston said people usually hold the lantern for about a minute as it fills with hot air, then set it aloft. The lanterns typically stay in the air about two to three minutes. They may rise as high as 2,000 feet and land several hundred yards from where they’re launched, depending on the amount of wind present. Volunteers will gather up lanterns the day after the festival, Cook said, although they’re made from biodegradable material.
At a recent Lantern Fest in Colorado, Humiston said, he saw a man write “will you marry me?” on a lantern and hand it to his girlfriend.
“They threw it up together. It was pretty romantic.”
If You Go
Where: El Dorado State Park, 618 Bluestem Point Road
When: 3 p.m. Saturday (check event’s website or Facebook page before you go for event’s status in case of bad weather)
Tickets: $40 in advance, $45 day of event; children 15 and under are free