NEWINGTON - A nationwide movement is making its first visit to Connecticut in Newington this weekend.
The Hartford Water Lantern Festival is set to take place in Mill Pond Park on Saturday, April 13, from 4 to 9:30 p.m.
The company known as Water Lantern Festival, formerly One World LLC, has brought events to at least 40 states since its inception five years ago.
“Company-wide, we’re really excited to be branching out into a lot of different markets this year,” event coordinator Bryar Robinson said. “Coming to Connecticut is definitely something we’ve wanted to do.”
Robinson made a special trip from Utah to Newington last week. He toured the site with Newington Parks and Recreation Superintendent Bill DeMaio, who had the idea of bringing the floating lantern festival to Mill Pond.
“I saw this opportunity and took a shot at it,” DeMaio explained. “They’re just breaking into the East Coast and Newington’s going to be the first here.”
When he approached the town’s Parks and Recreation Commission about the event, he expected that at least 200 lanterns would be sold. Nobody imagined that by April 1 that number would have reached 2,500.
The lanterns are made from eco-friendly wood and rice paper and will be removed from the pond after the event. Each package comes with a commemorative drawstring bag, a wristband and a marker to decorate the lantern. People are encouraged to write messages or draw pictures on their lanterns to commemorate a family milestone, celebrate an achievement or honor a loved one who has died.
At least 17 food trucks will be on site, selling a wide variety of cuisines. Parks and Recreation is planning a beer and wine garden and will open the snack shack for the 2019 season that evening. All concession and beverage sales will go toward this summer’s Newington Extravaganza Fireworks Show.
The event begins at 4 p.m. and the lanterns will be launched into Mill Pond around 7:30.
“It’s going to be really, really entertaining,” DeMaio said. “People will start showing up around 4 and they can get food and drinks, sit in the park and visit. Then, around dusk, we’ll make announcements on the DJ’s PA system and everyone will walk over to the pond and put the lanterns in. It will be a spectacular show of lanterns floating.”
Since parking around the Garfield Street area is limited, free transportation will be provided from Newington High School, at 605 Willard Ave. People can park near the south entrance and hop on a shuttle bus to the park, at 123 Garfield St. Rides will run continuously from 4 to 9:30 p.m.
Robinson was impressed with the park during his recent visit.
“I loved it,” he said. “I think it will be really good for our event. There will be plenty of space. People are really going to enjoy it.”
DeMaio is still considering what his lantern will represent.
“Because my glass is always half-full, I’m contemplating a thankful lantern,” he said. “I’m thankful for my life and my family.”
He’s also thankful that the festival has garnered so much interest from local residents and many, many others.
“We’re thrilled to death to be putting this on. I suspect it’s going to be a tremendous economic impact for the town of Newington. I expect over 6,000 people - all different kinds of people for all different reasons.”
Lanterns can be purchased at waterlanternfestival.com/Hartford.php and will be distributed at the park on the day of the event.
Erica Drzewiecki can be reached at 860-801-5097 or firstname.lastname@example.org.