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Duluth's Bentleyville Tour of Lights will be bigger than ever this year

Bentleyville Tour of Lights at Bayfront Festival Park in Duluth. (2014 file / News Tribune)

Kim Schneider

Forum News Service

This season's Bentleyville Tour of Lights will feature its biggest display yet, organizers announced Friday as they kicked off a fundraising and volunteer campaign for the annual holiday lighting display in Duluth.

Bentleyville, which started as a display at founder Nathan Bentley's home and moved to Bayfront Festival Park in 2009, will see a 15 to 20 percent increase in size, Bentley said.

This year's Bentleyville will have new paths and tunnels as well as $120,000 in new light displays. Santa Claus will relocate so fire pits can be closer to the 128-foot centerpiece tree, which will see an increase in its number of lights from 100,000 to 150,000.

The castle will increase in length, from 67 feet to 110 feet long, and include an additional entrance. Bentleyville will also add a Minnesota Air National Guard 148th Fighter Wing display which will be 36 feet long and 16 feet high, Bentley said.

Bentleyville is slated to open Nov. 19 and will close Dec. 26. The event is free.

Bentleyville's fourth annual candy bar fundraiser kicks off today. Candy bars will be available at 60 Holiday gas stations across Northeastern Minnesota and Northwestern Wisconsin. Ten of the candy bars, sold for $1, will have golden tickets.

Golden ticket winners will receive a two-night stay at the Edgewater Hotel and Waterpark, a private tour of Bentleyville, Bentleyville gear and dinner at Grandma's restaurants. They'll also have the chance to win a grand prize package trip for four to Chicago.

"That's a lot for one dollar," Bentley said.

All the candy bars contain a code that, when entered into Bentleyville's website, may reveal one of thousands of available prizes. The possible prizes include: Bentleyville sweatshirts, Holiday gas station gift cards, plush toys and discounts at Grandma's restaurants. Every wrapper also has a coupon for a 20 oz. Coca-Cola.

Money raised from candy bar sales covers operating costs, equipment maintenance and food, Bentley said. Bentleyville offers free cookies, hot cocoa, coffee, popcorn and marshmallows to visitors.

Organizers are looking for hundreds of volunteers every Saturday and Sunday, 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Wednesdays 5-8 p.m. — starting today and continuing through the month of October — to help set up the display, Bentley said. No prior experience is needed and lunch will be provided during weekend shifts.

Bentley said there are volunteer opportunities for people of all skill and ability levels with responsibilities ranging from painting to erecting displays. If someone has mobility issues and wants to volunteer, Bentley said they can help string the new tree lights.

"All those lights actually have to be connected to chicken wire," Bentley said. "So even if you aren't mobile ... you can come and sit at any one of our big white tables and help connect 150,000 zip ties to these lights."

Find more information about volunteering online at bentleyvilleusa.org.

Earlier this month the Duluth City Council unanimously approved a one-year contract to bring Bentleyville back for another season at Bayfront. As part of that agreement, the city of Duluth agreed to pick up the electricity bills for the display — estimated at about $12,000.

Local tourism advocates said the city's investment will more than pay for itself by bringing business to the city's downtown. Last year, Bentleyville welcomed more than 265,000 visitors.

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