Colder temperatures may have contributed to a smaller Holiday Train crowd Friday in Cottage Grove, but organizers believe donations will heat up and they ultimately will near their fundraising goal.
The Canadian Pacific's festively decorated locomotive and string of box cars and vintage passenger cars rolled slowly to its stopping point along West Point Douglas Road south of the 80th Street Bridge Friday evening, the train's 14th-annual pre-Christmas stop in south Washington County.
Canadian musicians Kelly Prescott and Colin James entertained bundled attendees with popular holiday tunes in country, rock and bluegrass variations.
Holiday Train stops in November and December in communities across the Midwest and in Canada raise awareness and money for local food shelves. The Holiday Train continues to be the single-largest fundraising event for the Friends in Need Food Shelf in St. Paul Park.
Cottage Grove Holiday Train Committee co-chair Mary Slusser said they entered Friday with about $55,000 raised for Friends in Need. Canadian Pacific announced its own $10,000 toward the local food shelf during the event, putting the committee closer to its $90,000 goal.
Last year the Holiday Train raised almost $80,000 for the food shelf.
"I think we'll be about there," Slusser predicted. Donations will continue coming in for the next couple of weeks.
The crowd was noticeably thinner than in recent years, puzzling organizers who thought the Friday night slot, familiar location and well-communicated traffic plan could help boost attendance.
"We can't figure out what it was other than the weather people telling people to stay home," Slusser said. Forecasts called for plunging temperatures and snowfall into the weekend.
Still, there was plenty of entertainment and snacks for those who threw on extra layers and turned out for the festive event.
Organizers added a second food truck this year, bolstered merchandise sales and increased the number of free glow sticks distributed to the first 2,300 children in attendance.
"Overall I'd say it was still successful," Slusser said, noting the glow sticks were gone and the hot cocoa and Caribou Coffee supply ran dry. "That's a sign there were a lot of people here."
City leaders touted community support for its food shelf.
"Thank you for all coming out and supporting the Friends in Need Food Shelf at this beautiful event," Cottage Grove Mayor Myron Bailey said, also thanking Canadian Pacific for its many years of local donations.
"Let's keep that giving going," Bailey told the crowd.
Holiday Train Committee volunteers who organize the event deserve thanks as well, St. Paul Park Mayor Keith Franke said.
Friends in Need draws its clients from throughout south Washington County and surrounding cities.
"We have a great community," Franke said. "All of our cities work so well together to help one another out."
"Let's get bigger and bigger and stronger and stronger," added Newport Mayor Tim Geraghty of the annual Holiday Train tradition. "Thanks for helping your neighbors."
Each year the Holiday Train draws fans from south Washington County, western Wisconsin and around Twin Cities area.
Making his first visit was Carl Forsberg of Lakeville and his family, including 2-year-old grandson Noah Dolence.
"It was great, it was great," Forsberg said afterward. "I was sorry we hadn't heard about it before."
Forsberg said his grandson loved the decorated Holiday Train.
"He thought that was cool," Forsberg said. "He's a train guy."