Earlier this year Canadian Pacific asked Cottage Grove officials if the city would host a big event celebrating the 15th anniversary of the company’s Holiday Train.

“They didn’t have to say much else,” Mayor Myron Bailey said. The city eagerly agreed to play host without knowing more.

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The big details came later: Canadian Pacific’s free public event will feature a concert by pop-turned-country star Sheryl Crow, the main attraction of family-friendly festivities celebrating 15 years of the Holiday Train food shelf fundraiser.

Canadian Pacific released details of its Holiday Train on Tuesday, just over a month before the Saturday, Dec. 14, visit. Canadian Pacific and city officials are planning for up to 30,000 people, which would easily make it Cottage Grove’s largest event in history.

“The excitement of the event is going to be pretty cool,” Bailey said.

Cottage Grove is the only U.S. city picked to host the concert event. Canadian Pacific also chose Calgary and Hamilton, a city near Toronto, to stage similar celebrations.

City leaders have been quietly preparing for the celebration for a few months, from planning for parking to identifying public safety needs. Bailey said Canadian Pacific has pledged to cover most event costs, from permitting to bus service to extra law enforcement.

To accommodate a concert-style stage and the expected crowd, this year’s Holiday Train stop is being moved to Canadian Pacific’s rail yard at 9250 Ideal Ave. Some activities will be in heated tents but the concert will be outdoors. Take 6, a gospel vocal group, joins Crow on the concert lineup.

"Since 1999, our Holiday Train has raised $7.4 million and more than 3 million pounds of food for local charities," said E. Hunter Harrison, Canadian Pacific's chief executive officer. "I thank these internationally-renowned artists for joining us in shining a bright spotlight on this important issue."

In addition to the concert, Canadian Pacific plans “North Pole Station,” an area with family activities such as ice sculptures, visits with Santa and holiday craft-making. There will be refreshments available but it will be an alcohol-free event.

The Holiday Train, a Canadian Pacific engine with rail and passenger cars, is being redecorated this year to mark the anniversary.

Food shelf benefits

As in past years, all money raised at the event will stay locally with the Friends in Need Food Shelf in St. Paul Park. Michelle Rageth, the food shelf’s director, said Friends in Need is really excited about this year’s event, and it’s thankful for the community’s continued support and that Canadian Pacific chose Cottage Grove for the anniversary celebration.

“I think that this year’s event is going to be so big that if the information truly gets out to the public it could be massive, so we’re very excited,” Rageth said.

Holiday Train donations comprise nearly one-half of Friends in Need’s annual budget. Rageth said there is no estimate on how the larger event will affect donations this year, but the public is asked to make a donation to the food shelf during the celebration.

Cash donations stretch the furthest because the food shelf uses the money to buy in bulk at lower cost, Rageth said, but toiletries also are encouraged. Items to donate include shampoo, toilet paper, paper towels, deodorant, bar soap, toothbrushes, diapers and feminine products.

There will be volunteer-staffed trucks at each parking area accepting food shelf donations. Volunteers from the food shelf also will be walking the event area accepting cash donations, similar to what is done at the Holiday Train stop each year.

On-site parking will be limited to handicapped spaces, and the public will have to park at one of three nearby lots and take a bus to the event entrance. The three parking areas will be:

  • Red lot - Metro Transit park-and-ride and the Rush site, 7160 West Point Douglas Road
  • Blue lot - 7550 95th St.
  • Green lot: 3M site, 10500 Innovation Road. This will be the largest lot.

There will be multiple buses running to and from the event area because organizers don’t want people to have to wait long for a ride, especially in low temperatures, Bailey said. Hayrides will take people from their vehicle to bus collector points at each parking area.

The North Pole Station will open at 4 p.m. The concert is expected to begin at 5 p.m. and last about two hours. People will be able to linger before and after the concert; the event is expected to wrap up by 9 p.m.

This will be the 11th year the Holiday Train has stopped in Cottage Grove. That the south Washington County community has so embraced the event was a key factor in the decision to offer the anniversary celebration to Cottage Grove.

South Washington County citizens who form the Holiday Train Committee each year have organized fundraisers for the Friends in Need Food Shelf. They’ve raised over $500,000 for the food shelf, including about $115,000 last year.

Holiday Train Committee leader Mary Slusser said while Canadian Pacific is taking the lead on organizing this year’s stop, the committee still will carry out its pre-Holiday Train fundraising events.

Additional volunteers are needed, Bailey said. Anybody interested in helping out can email him at myronbailey@aol.com.

“The whole thing’s going to be pretty substantial,” Bailey said.