See the sights of the season at Farmington scene park
There’s something of a weather anomaly located at Debbie and Jerry Lee’s hay meadow. Every fall, whether it’s cold enough or not, the farm owned by the Lees, members of Citizens Electric Corp. and known as Dry Creek, transforms into a winter wonderland. The residents slowly start to emerge from their summer hibernation, ready to frolic in the field for another season. Once the sun goes down and the car starts down the lighted path, guests find themselves no longer in this corner of Ste. Genevieve County but another happy visitor to Snowman Lane.
The drive-thru scene park truly was just a lane in 2005, when Debbie began decorating the lampposts of the family’s circle drive with her favorite winter characters: snowmen. Friends and family members would drive through to see the jolly cowboys and ice skaters and leave with a candy cane and an ornament. It didn’t take long for curious passersby to notice the unique decorations and start leaving messages in the mailbox to see if they could bring their kids.
“It kept getting to where more and more people wanted to see it,” recalls Debbie, who was then still working as interpreter for the deaf and an instructor at Mineral Area College. “I was getting ready to retire and begged him to let me have the hayfield.”
Jerry put his construction background to use. A half-mile’s worth of gravel plus 2,000 feet of electric wiring later and Debbie’s holiday pastime officially opened to visitors in 2019. The attraction was an immediate success. In only three years, visitors more than doubled from 200 cars in 2019 to more than 500 last year, with some coming from as far away as De Soto, Cape Girardeau and Poplar Bluff to take in the sights. Visitors pay admission to drive the winding course through the Lees’ shorn, 20-acre field, stopping every few feet to take in the next lighted display. No matter what holiday visitors celebrate, Debbie wants them all to leave happy.
“I love Christmastime, just like anyone, and the Nativity is very dear to me, but I also like Santa for the children, and snowmen just exude happiness,” Debbie says. “There’s no negativity about them. They make you think of happy times and kids playing in the snow. I mean, what’s better than that?”
The scenes Debbie and Jerry create are lit with spotlights and strings of outdoor Christmas tree lights. Most involve a humorous gag such as the “Nose Garden” full of carrots, or the gleeful pair roasting marshmallows over a campfire at a safe distance. Many incorporate a winter activity such as ice fishing or skiing, and each is a celebration of the season’s best qualities: mirth, togetherness and gratitude.
“We’re not a light park. We don’t have music synchronized with the lights,” Debbie says. “We want to keep it simple, but we want to keep it exciting, so I add to it every year.”
Each snowman begins with a 4-by-8-foot sheet of PVC board, cut to size and decorated from a supply of costumes that would make a community theater program envious. With a little help from Jerry, the snowmen, women and children mount zip lines made from Christmas lights, round up the snow mustangs at the Dry Creek Corral and enjoy a night at the races jockeying merry-go-round horses to the finish line in the Dry Creek Derby. Other scenes showcase everyday activities: a mother and baby hanging laundry to dry, a mechanic working in a garage and a snow police officer rescuing a snow cat from a tree.
“I do a lot of drawing,” Debbie says with a laugh. “I hand it off to him for the structural part of figuring out the mounting and the backdrop construction, and we go from there.”
Before one winter on Snowman Lane has come to a close, Debbie’s mind is already working on the next year’s additions. In 2020 came the snowman version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” Last year, she added the carousel, the racetrack and a tribute to first responders. The biggest addition was Santa’s Elf Village including a grain bin Santa’s Workshop where the Jolly Old Elf himself visited with guests during a special walkthrough event. This year, Debbie added a snowman Ferris wheel.
“I added 36 snowmen last year, so we had 136 snowmen and 98 animals,” Debbie says.
Every year, Debbie and Jerry move most of the scenes around to make the drive different for repeat visitors. Some travelers return every year to obtain the stamped, wooden Snowman Lane ornament, while others come back to complete Debbie’s trivia sheet. Kids especially love to see what antics Olaf, the snowman character from Disney’s “Frozen,” is up to this year. Every admission ticket doubles as an entry in a giveaway, with past prizes including a 2-foot snowman or a Snowman Lane T-shirt.
With the growing collection of whimsical, warmhearted friends, Debbie’s found that she and Jerry must set up Snowman Lane earlier every year. The husband-and-wife duo don’t mind the work.
“There’s a lot of physical labor, but it’s a labor of love,” Debbie says. “It makes it all worthwhile hearing these kids go, ‘Oh, I love this!’ — just hearing them have some joy.”
Snowman Lane opens
Thanksgiving and runs Friday, Saturday and Sunday through Dec. 30 from 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. The park is located at 19020 Straughan Road north of Farmington. Admission is $15 per vehicle, with an upcharge for large vans and buses. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.