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Paper lanterns to dot sky in Lake Park, Iowa tomorrow night

LAKE PARK, Iowa — A spectacular summer scene will unfold above the tranquil skies of Lake Park at 9:30 p.m. Thursday.

For the second year in a row, the Lake Park Care Center (LPCC) is sponsoring a Sky Lantern Celebration. Sky lanterns are lightweight paper lanterns with a wire frame that are released around the world to celebrate and remember.

The lanterns, which are Chinese in origin, are essentially small hot air balloons. A fuel cell made of a waxy flammable material is lit, the lantern fills with hot air and is then gently released.

The idea for the lantern celebration grew from loss and a desire to look back.

“A lot of the inspiration was very personal, as I lost my father,” Lake Park Care Center Administrator Gidget Wingad said. “ We also work with area hospice agencies, and we thought it would be a beautiful event for people to remember the ones they’ve lost. It’s a celebration of life, really.”

Last summer, about 250 people attended the celebration, and word was mostly passed around the immediate Lake Park area through word of mouth. Although the event can be “difficult to pull off,” Wingad said, it went smoothly and beautifully.

“We’ve had so many people calling, trying to plan other functions around it so they can attend,” Wingad said of the time leading up to this year’s event. “People want to be a part of it; it’s a unique event and something that doesn’t happen much in this area.”

Participants also needn’t be worried about their lanterns harming the environment.

“They (the lanterns) are biodegradable,” Wingad said. “We looked looked at concerns from all angles.”

As for weather, wind and other concerns, Wingad said, “So far, it is looking good for Thursday. It’s an event for the whole family.”

Wingad is also thankful for the full cooperation of several city entities.

“We have support from the city council, administration, the police and fire departments and neighbors,” she said. “They’ll keep it a safe event.”

Additionally, the lanterns are free and available to all who attend, but a free-will donation will be accepted. This time around, Wingad and all involved are hoping for an even greater response, and a spectacular site in the starry sky.

“We are excited, and hoping for probably double the turnout,” Wingad explained. “Last year, people didn’t know what it was, and we didn’t promote it much. This year the response has been pretty overwhelming. Now, we want to have people from surrounding communities come.”

The LPCC is located across the street from Silver Lake, which Wingad described as a great location.

“Last year, the windflow carried the lanterns out and over the lake,” Wingad said. “It was very beautiful. We are crossing our fingers for a gentle breeze blowing over the lake, but the weather is unpredictable.”

Furthermore, those who wish to launch the lanterns from other locations — like boats on the lake — are invited to come to the nursing home ahead of time to pick them up. Those who want to take time to remember loved ones will be able to do that easily, as well.

“There will be volunteers on hand to help people light the lantern and get it ready, so people can focus on remembering, sending a wish, and watching it go up into the heavens,” Wingad said. “Also, there will be 10 or 15 lighting stations.”

The entire enchanting experience will start with a prayer of remembrance, and will be further enhanced by heart-pulling background music played over a sound system provided by a LPCC nurse and her husband. The first release became a long trail in the sky, as opposed to a mass, but whether or not the scene unfolds like the sky lantern release in the Disney movie “Tangled” doesn’t matter.

“We’re so happy to do something like this — the residents (of the nursing home) love it,” Wingad said.