By JARRED PETERSON
The season is here again and Bentleyville is back at Bayfront Festival Park Nov. 20 through Dec. 26 with new attractions and a mission to help the less fortunate.
"I wouldn't really say there was a purpose, other than to beat out the neighbor with more Christmas lights," said Nathan Bentley, the creator and event coordinator of Bentleyville. "It has evolved now into a non-profit church organization. we actually raise non-perishable food items and any unwrapped toys for the local Salvation Army."
People are encouraged to bring a non-perishable food item or any unwrapped toy to the free event, Bentley said. Along with food and toys, money donations are being accepted, which are "the greatest source of income."
Along with continuing the event's mission of giving back to the community with charity, Bentleyville will continue the tradition of train rides, jungle buses, and attractions for all to see.
When first walking in the castle gates, sightseers will notice a 120-foot tree, which is the tallest in the United States. "A true focal point" said Kristi Stokes, president of Greater Downtown Council. "Nathan does everything in supersize; it will be a big draw."
As the event adds more lighting attractions, finding ways to cut costs and save energy comes into play. "As you walk through the tunnel, there will be LED lights," said Bentley.
The event will also include a little more of the items that visitors have come to expect with the lighting experience. Equipped with 15,000 hats for children, 6,000 pounds of hot cocoa, and 250,000 cookies, their hope is to provide more to the Bentleyville experience, Bentley said.
When it comes to holding the event every year, it keeps some generous sponsors that want to give back to the community. Republic Bank in Duluth is a major sponsor to Bentleyville, said Dave Gaddie, President and CEO of Republic Bank. Since Jeno Paulucci, who owns Republic Bank and his wife contributed to the building of the "warming house" in Bayfront Festival Park, the bank felt it was right to sponsor Bentleyville.
Bentleyville never was a "big" event until it came to Duluth, but it still warmed the hearts of Northlanders in the small town of Cloquet, Minn. "When we moved to rural Cloquet, my staff starting calling it Bentleyville instead of Whoville, it had more of jag," Bentley said. "It's when we started calling this Christmas walk through Bentleyville versus the house with all the lights."
After taking a year off in 2008, the City of Duluth contacted Bentley to see if they could bring his event to Bayfront Fesitval Park. Moving the event to Duluth would allow more of the community that could not make it out to his house, be able to enjoy the event, Bentley said.