By Jane Smith Meadville Tribune
CONNEAUT LAKE — Two Crawford County men have been working hard to brighten Conneaut Lake this holiday season.
All their hard work has paid off, as the lake has been alive with lights since Thanksgiving. More than 50 specially designed trees have lined the banks around Conneaut Lake with lights of all different colors that shine throughout the evening and the early morning hours just before sunrise.
Recently retired Meadville Police Chief Dave Stefanucci and Dane Lang, who owns Lang Motors in Meadville, started the project with one tree in 2006. It exponentially grew over the last few years, as the trees numbered 17 in 2012 before exploding to 54 this winter. Because of the lights’ reflection from the lake, it appears to be twice that number.
Stefanucci and Lang gather all the materials, and then they build the tree and put on the lights before erecting them on site for interested homeowners. Once the Christmas season is over, the two men will take the trees down and store them.
In addition to each homeowner paying for the unit — the flag pole, lights, and labor of putting the tree up and taking it down — the homeowners supply the electric. The lights are rated at 105 watts, compared with traditional twinkle lights, which are rated 2,470 watts. It’s quite a savings in the cost of electricity.
Stefanucci did some research and calculated that the LED lights can be operated for $2.60 for the entire holiday season — from Thanksgiving to right after New Year’s Day. That is at a cost of seven cents per kilowatt for an average eight-hour day. In comparison, the twinkling lights cost $62.50 for the same time period.
Each tree has 1,540 LED lights. Some are red; others are green, blue, purple or white.
How it all began
The project started after Stefanucci moved from Meadville to Conneaut Lake on a part-time basis in 2006. He took his flagpole tree from Meadville to Conneaut Lake and put it up.
“There were no lights out here,” he said of Conneaut Lake. “I was used to a lot of lights (in Meadville). The lake was dark and black.
“The only other tree was Dane Lang’s Charlie Brown Christmas tree,” Stefanucci said. “We had the only two trees on the southern end of the lake.”
Life-long friends Stefanucci and Lang, who also lives in Conneaut Lake, attempted to get more light at the lake — particularly for the Christmas season.
This year, the pair started working in July to construct the trees. Lang said they take “tons of hours” to construct, but it’s hours they enjoy.
“The nicest thing is I’m working with a good friend I grew up with,” said Lang, noting their wives also have become involved and are very supportive and patient. After making all the trees, the pair started in October to begin to erect the trees in the yards of those who had ordered them.
Stefanucci said they can put up between two and four trees a day, depending on weather conditions.
The many lighted Christmas trees around Conneaut Lake have brought nothing but a good response from many throughout the community.
Bob and Nancy Asmus, who live on the east side of Conneaut Lake, were two of the first people to buy a tree last year. Bob said Stefanucci approached him about what he and Lang had in mind.
“It sounded like a good idea to me,” Bob said, noting it was a way “you can decorate for Christmas and make a statement.” Bob said he liked the effort the two men were putting forth and said he “would be glad to be a participant.”
Bob later spoke with his neighbor, Steve Mizner, and the two families came together and bought the unit.
“From there Dave and Dane came and set it up,” Bob Asmus said. “At the end of the year, they took it down. It was effortless on my part.”
Bob is elated with how many more trees there are this year compared to last.
“I’m glad it caught on,” he said. “It brightened up the lake and made the holiday season brighter. It added a lot.”
For the Asmus’ tree, Stefanucci and Lang even set up a timer so it comes on every morning at 5:30 and stays on until 7 a.m. to greet those passing by to welcome another day. The timer then triggers again at 5:30 p.m. before it turns off at 11 p.m.
Other participants generally have their tree on during the same timed pattern, though they have the option of setting their own schedule.
Dave Lynch, vice chairman of the Conneaut Lake Area Historical Society, loves the lit up trees and the atmosphere they create. He lives on the east side of Conneaut Lake but unfortunately not on the lakefront. He didn’t purchase a unit because he said his home is “too far back from the lake,” noting it would “not be visible.”
Still, Lynch believes “they are very nice. I would like to see more of them,” adding he has not heard any negative comments about the trees from the community. “Everybody loves them.”
The two men have also erected several lit up trees in Meadville — such as at C&J Industries. Other places in Meadville have inquired about trees for 2014, as well. Although there are no planned expansions at this time, Lang said he would love to see the idea pick up and the area become “like Oglebay,” referring to a town in West Virginia that has a popular Christmas display of lights of all different designs.
It is the hope of Stefanucci and Lang that people of all areas take a trip to Conneaut Lake to view the lit up trees. As for Lang, he would love to see a picture of the trees taken from the sky, but so far is happy with those taken from the areas around the lake.
Stefanucci joked that he and Lang may have to solicit some more people to serve as crew members if the project continues to grow. If recent local support is any indication, the pair may erect more than 54 trees next year.
“I just love it,” Nancy Asmus said. “I want them to let me be the first (tree) up and the last one down.”
Although everybody was supposed to wait and turn them on the same day, some were too eager and turned theirs on earlier than others, she said.
“They couldn’t wait,” Nancy said. “It was like unwrapping a present.”