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Time to celebrate: Night We Light parade is Friday

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BEMIDJI – The community is invited to gather Friday evening for Bemidji’s annual Night We Light parade.

But festivities after the parade, which begins at 6 p.m., will be less formal than in years past.

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The 18th annual parade will be held along the traditional parade route: starting from Eighth Street and Beltrami Avenue, going south on Beltrami Avenue to Third Street, and then west to Irvine Avenue.

Workers install lights on a tree downtown in preparation for Friday’s Night We Light Parade. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

However, the expected ceremony along the Lake Bemidji waterfront will not be held this year. The lights on the waterfront trees, from the Rotary Pavilion to the Jaycees Pavilion, will be turned on, without a countdown, at some point during the parade.

Also, there will not be lights on the trees in downtown Bemidji this year.

The Go & Whoa Harness Club, though, will still host their traditional horse-drawn wagon rides near Third Street and Beltrami Avenue.

“It’s still going to be a nice display,” said Lori Paris, executive director of the Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce, of the lights, “but it’s not going to be what we’re all used to.”

The annual Night We Light event is a collaboration between the Chamber, Downtown Development Authority and the city of Bemidji.

A combination of factors led to this year’s changes, Paris said, including a lack of funds, the July 2 storm, and aging city infrastructure.

Fundraising for the lights, which cost upwards of $20,000 a year, has been declining in recent years, the storm destroyed some of the permanent lights installed along building roofs, and the roadside electrical infrastructure is aging and, in many cases, not working.

Only about 50 percent of the electrical setup needed for the downtown lights is still operable, Paris noted.

“It really is out of our hands,” said Paris of the Chamber’s involvement in the downtown lights. “The city council will have to decide what to do.”

Marcia Larson, Bemidji parks and recreation director, said the downtown electrical wires are imbedded in about 120 tree grates sprinkled throughout downtown.

As workers pull up the tree grates, the power is sometimes lost, she said.

The extent of the wiring problem is hard to know, Larson said, because breaks also could exist along the power lines between the sidewalks.

“Over the years, the wiring has gotten old,” she said. “We’re not sure on some of those where the break is.”

Mayor-elect Rita Albrecht is part of a Blandin Foundation group of leaders committed to revitalizing downtown. She said the DDA is aware of the infrastructure issues with downtown electricity, which also has impacted other events, including Crazy Daze and street dances.

A small group of DDA and Chamber members met Wednesday with city staffers in an early discussion about what to do about the electrical needs downtown.

“The Night We Light is one of the No. 1 events in our downtown,” Albrecht said. “Personally, it is one of the ones that my family and I love the most.”

A solution won’t be identified in time for this year’s event, but stakeholders are considering future options, including the potential for grant funding to address electrical infrastructure needs.

Anyone interested in contributing toward the cost of the Night We Light lighting setup is encouraged to do so through the Northwest Minnesota Foundation, nwmf.org.

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