The first season of Fantasy Lights in 1995 brought 38 leased or purchased displays. In just a few years, organizers established vital partnerships that have earned Fantasy Lights the title of largest drive-through light display in the Northwest. Because of strong local partners like Bates Technical College, the event gets bigger and brighter each year.

The ever-popular Candy Cane Lane and a gingerbread house were a few of Bates' first contributions to Fantasy Lights.
The ever-popular Candy Cane Lane and a gingerbread house were a few of Bates’ first contributions to Fantasy Lights.

Though the college entered into a formal partnership with Pierce County Parks and Recreation in 1997, Bates has built holiday light displays since Fantasy Lights’ inception. First building tulips and daffodils to enhance the entrance’s mountain scene, a snowman on a fire truck with a moving ladder, and trees to grace the entire display. The next year brought the popular Candy Cane Lane, which was enhanced with a gingerbread house in 1997.

This year, the twinkling red-and-white lane of candy canes will get an updated sign that will welcome you along the cheerful pathway.  Also new this year is a gigantic snowman warming up—and melting—by a flaming fire, and a roaring race car emblazoned with the number 20 to commemorate Fantasy Lights’ two decades of spreading holiday delight and cheer.

Turning metal and wire into a lights display takes careful planning and craftsmanship. Welding student Mark Brown began creating the metal frames for the college’s annual contribution in July, which took about three weeks to complete, said Brown.  “I was working about 5 or 6 hours a day, on my own time in the welding classroom, so the displays took at least 60 hours to finish,” he added.

Each year, the ideas for the displays come to Bates’ Welding program in the form of sketches from Pierce County Parks and Recreation. Brown worked with instructors Rick Huston and Jim Behee to improve on the design and customize the displays for use in the park.

Counting the many dazzling Bates-built scenes and figures in the park will keep you busy. You’ll find scores of our students’ work around every bend of the 2.2-mile drive-through event.  In addition to the magnificent welcome sign on Pacific Avenue, mammoth marine creatures, and a 14-foot rocket ship that were last year’s contribution, you’ll delight in the bright leaping frogs, frisky elves, a Harley-riding Santa, and handfuls of laughing gingerbread kids.

Welding student Mark Brown spent his summer crafting three displays for the 2014 Fantasy Lights.
Welding student Mark Brown spent his summer crafting three displays for the 2014 Fantasy Lights.

“This 18-year partnership with Pierce County Parks and Recreation has yielded countless hands-on learning experiences for our students, who are becoming experts in their craft,” said Huston. “Students take a great deal of pride in their work, and are always excited to watch their illuminated project set in motion at the park for their families and others to enjoy,” he added.

Creative holiday scenes coupled with strong community partners makes Fantasy Lights a truly unique and festive experience—one that has become a tradition for many, and a treasured relationship for the college.

“We are proud of our long partnership with Pierce County Parks and Recreation,” said President Ron Langrell. “Our annual participation is a shining example of our community involvement with neighborhood partners. Fantasy Lights is a fun and rewarding tradition for our students and employees, and we look forward to being a part of it each holiday season,” he said.

Fantasy Lights runs from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day, 5:30-9 p.m. at Spanaway Park. Learn more here: 


About Bates Technical College

Founded in 1940, Bates Technical College is a public college that offers certificate and degree opportunities in nearly 50 career education programs, and serves approximately 3,000 career training students and 10,000 more community members annually in extended learning, distance learning, high school, and other programs. For more information, go to, or call 253.680.7000.