Jason Morton
| The Tuscaloosa News

For the eighth year of its Tinsel Trail fundraiser, Tuscaloosa One Place decided it had to set some limits.

The popularity of the event, which brings ornately decorated trees to the Tuscaloosa Riverwalk in conjunction with the city’s Holidays on the River festivities, grew to almost 200 trees last year.

But with social distancing and public health concerns over spreading the coronavirus still lingering, organizers this year opted to cap the trees at 170.

And, as it turns out, it was no trouble in reaching that limit.

“We still have people asking to sponsor trees,” said Ashley Cornelius-Hester, director of communications for Tuscaloosa One Place. “We could’ve sold (200) this year, but it was really hard to get that many trees and we were running out of space.”

Decoration of the trees began Wednesday and the trail, which extends between the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater and Tuscaloosa River Market, officially opens on Nov. 23 – the same day as the Holidays on the River ice rink begins this year’s operations – with a grand opening set for 5:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m.

Limiting the trees won’t be the only change influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic, Cornelius-Hester said.

This year, instead of its annual Sunday with Santa event, during which kids of all ages can participate in making jingle bell necklaces, decorating cookies or making reindeer food, Tuscaloosa One Place will be selling “Kringle Kits” that will allow parents and children to make these crafts at home.

Now available for pre-order through Dec. 1, each $10 kit can be purchased online at www.ttowntinsel.com/sunday-with-santa.

“We really tried to do as much of the events at Sunday with Santa as we could,” Cornelius-Hester said.

The Kringle Kits will be set for pick-up on Dec. 12 and, for now, photos with Santa are planned for that day – but that all depends on whether health regulations will allow it, she said.

One thing unchanged, however, will be the annual Pet Night.

Set for Dec. 6 from 3 p.m.-6 p.m., owners are encouraged to bring the pets to walk the trail and meet vendors of pet products.

And for Pet Night, like every other night on the Tinsel Trail, attendance is free.

Tuscaloosa One Place generates it funds from the event through tree sponsorships and, despite limiting the number of entries this year, Cornelius-Hester said the organization was able to reach the same fundraising totals it met during last year’s record 200-tree entry.

Cornelius-Hester said the funds generated by the trail are able to go beyond the limits of some of its more traditional funding sources, such as grants.

“Thinking about how COVID(-19) has affected our agency and some of our funding sources, the funds raised with the Tinsel Trail can cover things that grants typically couldn’t cover,” Cornelius-Hester said. “But some of our biggest successes with this is being able to tell people what we do.”

Launched in 2013, a board member of Tuscaloosa’s One Place brought the idea for the Tinsel Trail to Tuscaloosa from Huntsville. The Downtown 47 Tinsel Trail in Huntsville had more than 200 trees by its third year.

The initial 100 trees for Tuscaloosa’s Tinsel Trail, decorated by individual sponsors with a variety of themes, generated about $10,000 for the group that offers programs and services that help community members with after-school and child development, family and parenting, career and personal development, and teen intervention and support.

And in a year devastated by the effects of the coronavirus and the efforts to slow the spread of the infection it causes, ensuring the Tinsel Trail’s return was a top priority for the local organization.

“We’re very proud  to have Tinsel Trail,” Cornelius-Hester said. “With so many events having been canceled, this is is something we can do that feels normal.

“People are real excited about that, and so are we.”

Reach Jason Morton at [email protected].

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