We’re calling it now — snow is in the forecast for Sanford on Dec. 16. And lots of it … at least in the area of the Lions Club Fairgrounds, between the hours of 5 and 10 p.m.

Organizers of Sanford’s first Winter Wonderland will be cranking out the white stuff (man made, but snow nonetheless) for the free event — there will be hills for sledding and an area for smaller children to make snow angels and build snowmen.

More than 50 vendors, Santa Claus himself and a few more Christmas characters will be on hand for the event. Admission will be free, but guests will be encouraged to donate non-perishable food items for the Christian United Outreach Center of Lee County. The Winter Wonderland is the brainchild of Lee County Sheriff’s Deputy Brian Estes and Honda/Suzuki of Sanford sales manager Dusty Phillips.

“It was back during the summer when Dusty and I began talking about this,” says Estes. “He usually organizes an event during Christmas, and I asked him to help come up with an idea for something bigger. He’d done something on a smaller scale at Broadway Baseball Park, and a lot of people attended that and had a great time.

“Our idea was to do the snow on a larger level — invite people in the community and most importantly, make it free. There are children here who’ve either never seen snow or don’t get to see it very often, and we wanted to make this magical for them.”

The snow will be the big draw, of course. Organizers have hired Raleigh-based Snow My Yard, the same company that has provided a hill and sledding at recent Christmas tree lighting ceremonies put on by Downtown Sanford Inc. at Depot Park. The steep hills near the soccer fields will provide natural sledding areas and up to five lanes at a time, Estes says.

That’s important, because he’s expecting a big crowd, weather permitting (rain is the only thing that could force a postponement … snow, on the other hand, would be very welcome).

And unlike most local Christmas events, which take place either in late November or early December, the Winter Wonderland is just nine days out from the big day. Estes says he understands a lot of people are traveling then, but a lot of people are also looking for activities for their children.

“We want it to feel like Christmas out there, so we love that it’s so close,” he says. “We hope everybody comes away from this feeling like a kid.”

In addition to Estes and Phillips, organizers for the first Winter Wonderland include Ashley Estes, Wendy Phillips, Brandy and Tommy Garner, Teresa and Mike Kelly, Regina and James Emerson and Ella and Ashley Wilson.

— by Billy Liggett