Converts fill the ranks of hayriders that hop on tractor-pulled, open-air wagons to journey through the more than a million twinkling lights that fill Watkins Regional Park for its annual Festival of Lights.
Motorists who used to drive through are now among the hayride ranks, according to Ronnie Proctor, administrative aid at Old Maryland Farm. They tell him they love the open air experience.
"The ambiance is there, is real, it's live," Proctor said. Former car drivers tell him that watching the lights in an open-air wagon is "a whole different experience from driving through it," he said.
Hayrides are available at 7 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday nights in December, but participants should arrive at 6:45 p.m. when the wagons are loaded, Proctor said. The hayride experience lasts about an hour from the time the wagons take off, according to Proctor. The last hayride is Sunday, Dec. 30.
The open-air excursion takes place in three parts. Participants ride through half of the lights, then they stop at Watkins Nature Center, where they can warm up by the fireplace, enjoy the holiday decorations, get refreshments, and visit the gift shop, Proctor said.
Snakes, owls, turtles and other reptiles and birds also will be at the center for participants to look at, according to Proctor. Then it's back to the wagon to ride through the rest of the lights.
This years lights include some new displays including Santa flying a helicopter and driving a fire truck, according to the Prince George's County Department of Parks and Recreation.
Hayride-goers must first call the Old Maryland Farm at (301) 218-6770 during office hours to make a reservation as space is limited. Reservation holders pay $5 per person in cash when they arrive for the hayride, and the ride is open to all ages, Proctor said.
Participants will receive information on the starting point location and additional details when they call for reservations, according to Proctor.
Proctor reports seeing familiar names of families and groups on the reservation list, year after year. "They fell in love with it," he said.