Winter Wonderland proves that the holidays are magic. After all when else can you go sledding down a snow mountain in southwest Florida?
Patch wondered exactly how it's done so went to the source: Marianne Barnebey, the council woman who started Winter Wonderland 16 years ago and has been organizing it ever since.
What we learned is a little amazing. It all starts logically enough: Mike Carter Construction built the frame for snow mountain and the city has refurbished that frame for the past 16 years. But having a wooden mountain is one thing, making snow stick is another.
"Very special elves bring snow to downtown Bradenton," Barnebey said. "It's a secret formula and a little bit of magic."
And that bit of magic has drawn crowds from the beginning. In Winter Wonderland's first year, Barnebey said she planned on 800 participants. About 2,000 showed up. Today the event draws between 15,000 and 20,000 people depending on the weather and the economy.
Barnebey said it takes a lot of work and timing to make everything come out just right. She credits Bradenton's Fire Marshal Kenny Langston for helping to make things come together, along with her husband Mark Barnebey and her children.
The festivities include much more than sledding, although that is the signature attraction. There are also arts and crafts, games, hayrides, food and vendors. The snow sledding mountains will be in the parking lot north of Old Main Pub.
The Bradenton Fire Department's antique fire truck departs from the south end of Old Main Street around 6 p.m. to escort Mr. and Mrs. Claus to the entrance of Westminster Courtyard, 222 Old Main St., where they will meet with kids until about 8:30 p.m. Westminster Properties decorate and sponsor Santa's Workshop every year.
The idea from the beginning, she said was to make Winter Wonderland a family event. She said that people who started coming to Winter Wonderland as teenagers are now returning to the annual festivities with their own young children. And Barnebey's children have grown up with the event as well.
Barnebey said it takes a lot of work and timing to make everything come out just right. She credits Bradenton's Fire Marshal Kenny Langston for helping to make things come together, along with her husband Mark Barneby. Her children no longer get to whisper their wishes in Santa's ear, instead they help make the magic happen for a new generation of children.
And that's what keeps Barneby doing this year after year. It wouldn't be a true Wonderland without Santa and his elves. And apparently in recent years Barneby attained elf first class status. After more than a decade of training and helping Santa navigate his way to downtown Bradenton, she finally earned her stripes. With her new status she is qualified to speak in elementary schools about holiday traditions and participate in other holiday gatherings.
This year Elf Barneby will participate in the Bradenton Polce Department's badge event on Dec. 15 and will serve in her elf capacity at Westminster.
After visiting with Santa and his elves, festival goers can look toward Bradenton's downtown waterfront to witness Bradenton Yacht Club’s 14th Annual Holiday Boat Parade. The lighted boat parade begins at 6:30 p.m. and is expected to pass the downtown waterfront around 8:30 p.m.