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Holiday Train's 10th-annual Cottage Grove stop to pose added challenges

Organizers are beginning to plan for the 10th-annual Canadian Pacific Holiday Train stop in Cottage Grove this December.

But they have even more planning to do after it was announced that the festive train and accompanying holiday entertainment will roll through at 5:30 p.m. on a Tuesday, not a weekend evening like in recent years.

The lead organizer for the Cottage Grove stop said the Holiday Train Committee is appreciative the train is returning on Dec. 11, but acknowledged that the Tuesday evening stop poses additional logistical challenges and could affect public turnout.

"I was a little surprised because we've been very fortunate to have it on a weekend night" in recent years, said Mary Slusser, who leads the Holiday Train Committee. Slusser learned of the date last week, but emailed Canadian Pacific officials to verify that Cottage Grove had indeed drawn a Tuesday night stop on the train's multi-state tour. "It is what it is and so we will graciously accept."

Traffic likely will be the biggest challenge. The train's stop will coincide with the return of rush-hour commuters on Metro Transit buses from St. Paul. Metro Transit's park-and-ride lot is just south of the Holiday Train area on West Point Douglas Road.

"I'm sure traffic on Highway 61 might be a little busier than on a Saturday, so we'll just have to think about what we'll have to do differently," Slusser said. The train has stopped in Cottage Grove on weekdays, but not for a few years.

The Tuesday night stop also raises questions about attendance. Last year, an estimated 10,000 people turned out for a Sunday night visit.

Slusser is hopeful for another big turnout. While this year's stop lands in the work week, Slusser said in past years some people have been unable to attend because of weekend holiday parties.

"I'm not sure what to expect as far as the crowd," she said. "Tuesday night might be a great night; I don't know."

The Holiday Train stop and related activities raise money for the Friends in Need Food Shelf in St. Paul Park. The event draws thousands of people who bundle up for the train's brief stop along West Point Douglas Road south of 80th Street.

Slusser said Holiday Train Committee members have special plans to celebrate Canadian Pacifics' 10th visit. They will sell a commemorative calendar later this year and expand a pancake breakfast; proceeds from both will benefit the food shelf.

At past Holiday Train stops, the crowd received small plastic glow sticks to wave upon the train's arrival. This year, Slusser said, she is ordering multi-colored glow sticks about three times the size and made of foam. She said she the jumbo glowsticks used in a Grammy Award production and discovered that the supplier is a vendor her employer works with.

"I'm looking for a bigger bang this year," she said of the festivities.

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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