Families seeking outdoor adventure — and an early night — on New Year’s Eve will find both in the wilds of Lebanon Hills Regional Park.
Partiers can ring in 2015 with bonfires, hiking, sledding, storytelling and much more, starting at 5 p.m. The event wraps up with a ball drop and dance party at 8 p.m.
The celebration is one of Dakota County’s most popular events and draws about 800 partygoers each year, Park Operations Coordinator Katie Pata said.
“It really lifts your spirits every year,” Pata said. “We’re outside. We’re celebrating winter in Minnesota. We’re celebrating the new year. It’s really fun.”
More than 1,200 luminarias will light up 2 miles of trails, creating a magical feel, she said. A sledding hill and Schulze Lake are also illuminated.
If there is enough snow — or any snow this year — attendees will be able to rent snowshoes. They should bring their own ice skates and sleds, Pata said. People may be able to skate on Schulze Lake if the weather is right and creates a smooth surface. There will be kicksleds available to use on the ice, she said.
For those looking to warm up, there will be indoor activities, several bonfires and a free make-your-own s’mores buffet. A 15-foot-long fire will be burning by the beach for those who want to cook s’mores. Two food trucks will be selling warm drinks and kid-friendly dishes.
Local magician Star Michaelina and storyteller Roy Edward Power, of the Minnesota Children’s Museum, will perform throughout the evening.
“Every corner you turn, there’s something magical waiting for you,” said Mary Vanorny, of Farmington, who has been going to the event for six years. “There’s like an excitement in the air as soon as you get out of the car in the parking lot.”
Her children, ages 10 and 7, look forward to it every year. They love the storyteller and playing board games in the Visitor Center.
For most families, the highlight is the drop of a 3-foot-wide ball of lights, Pata said. Shortly before the drop, officials start blaring music from speakers.
“People all start looking around like, ‘What’s going on?’ There’s really loud music echoing through the park,” Pata said.
Then the countdown begins, culminating in confetti cannons and “Auld Lang Syne.”
“Parents really enjoy that it’s at 7:59 p.m. and you don’t have to stay up until midnight,” Vanorny said.
The event costs $8 per person for those who preregister by Tuesday and $10 at the door. Children younger than 5 get in free. To register, call 952-891-7000 or visit www.dakotacounty.us/parks.
Free parking is available at Lebanon Hills and Woodcrest Church, 525 Cliff Road, where shuttles will bring riders to the park.
Pata said they are still looking for volunteers to greet people, direct traffic and watch over the kicksledding. To sign up, visit http://tinyurl.com/pwkftdx.