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Family behind northeast North Dakota holiday light display aims to start a holiday tradition

Coreen and Eric Willis created the "Just a Light Walk" as a family-friendly way to celebrate the holidays that allows people to enjoy the outdoors, even in the winter.

Just a Light Walk 2
"Just a Light Walk" is a holiday light display that winds through the woods at Coreen and Eric Willis' farm near Buxton, North Dakota.
Contributed / Coreen Willis
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BUXTON, N.D. — There is a new Christmas tradition in the works at the Willis family’s farm near Buxton, North Dakota.

Coreen and Eric Willis, along with their five children, are putting on “Just a Light Walk,” a holiday light display, for the first time this year. The couple created the event as a family-friendly way to celebrate the holidays that allows people to enjoy the outdoors, even in the winter.

Those brave enough to “venture” off the beaten path this holiday season will be greeted by homemade cookies, hot cocoa and tens of thousands of Christmas lights.

“I say venture because we’re a couple miles off the pavement, so you have to be a little adventurous to turn off the pavement to come down to us,” said Eric.

What is "Just a light walk?" Coreen says it’s right in the name.

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“It’s a light walk — like it’s short and it’s lights,” she said.

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At the Parrett house in south Fargo on Monday everyone is still talking about the best Christmas ever.

The walk consists of two trails that wind through the woods. The first is a quarter mile loop decorated with Christmas lights and colorful decorations. The second, which Coreen and Eric call the “extension loop,” is a darker, quieter loop just lit along the sides of the trail.

“You kind of feel like you’re lost in the woods a little bit, but of course you’re not,” said Coreen.

The display is accompanied by fire pits for warming up and roasting marshmallows. The Willises also hand out homemade, freshly baked cookies — monster, Andes mint and mocha java are becoming regular varieties.

Just A Light Walk 1
Just a Light Walk is a holiday light display that winds through the woods at Coreen and Eric Willis' farm near Buxton, North Dakota.
Contributed / Coreen Willis

"Just a Light Walk" was inspired by other holiday light displays. Coreen and Eric grew up in Connecticut, where they would visit a holiday display at Whipple’s Chapel, which closed in the early 2000s. The annual holiday light display at McCrory Gardens, a South Dakota State University botanical garden in Brookings, South Dakota, also served as a source of inspiration.

The family started purchasing and putting up the thousands of feet of LED lights in November, and opened the event on Dec. 3. Other than having to repair a few strands of lights chewed up by squirrels, Coreen and Eric say the event is off to a good start.

“The first family that came through had three young children, and the smiles on their faces was worth every second we put into building this,” said Eric.

People can be reluctant to change existing traditions or find new ones, said Eric, but some who have visited the event have told the Willises they would like to come back.

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“It really is very exciting for us,” he said.

Coreen says her family already plans to hold the event again next year. If it continues for a third, she hopes to expand upon the original idea even more, possibly adding cabins for reading a Christmas story or viewing a classic Christmas special along the route.

Even with big dreams of growing the event in the future, Eric says they always want it to stay true to its roots and original intention.

“There’s a certain amount of charm that comes from building something with either just the two of us or our family,” he said.

"Just a Light Walk" is open every Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday through the rest of December. In January, the event will be open one final weekend: Friday, Jan. 6 through Sunday, Jan 8. The event is open from 6-9 p.m. on Thursdays and Sundays and 6-10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

"Just a Light Walk" is located at 16613 11th St. NE, Buxton, North Dakota. The event cost $10 for adults ages 13 and up, $5 for children ages six to 12 and free for children under the age of five.

More information is available at justalightwalk.com or the "Just a Light Walk" Facebook page.

Related Topics: CHRISTMAS
Ingrid Harbo joined the Grand Forks Herald in September 2021.

Harbo covers Grand Forks region news, and also writes about business in Grand Forks and the surrounding area.

Readers can reach Harbo at 701-780-1124 or iharbo@gfherald.com. Follow her on Twitter @ingridaharbo.
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