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Something to 'Crow' about: Cottage Grove's Holiday Train event to draw thousands

Photo courtesy of Canadian Pacific

Months of planning will culminate in the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train’s 15th anniversary event in Cottage Grove Saturday, Dec. 14. The outdoor concert by Grammy winners Sheryl Crow and the a cappella group Take 6 is being billed as the largest event in the city’s history, with up to 30,000 people expected.

The event is a bulked-up celebration of the railroad company’s annual Holiday Train visit, which has stopped in Cottage Grove since 2003 and is the centerpiece of a major fundraising effort for the Friends in Need Food Shelf in St. Paul Park.

Here is what you need to know before heading out to the event this Saturday:

Where is it?

The event will take place on a paved — and plowed — lot at the Canadian Pacific railyard north of 95th Street and west of Ideal Avenue. That is a change from previous Holiday Train stops along West Point Douglas Road near the 80th Street/Highway 61 interchange. The new location was selected to handle the larger crowd.

Why is Canadian Pacific doing this?

The rail company has run Holiday Trains across Canada and the U.S. since 1998. Canadian Pacific officials said they decided to mark the 15th anniversary with three large events, one in Cottage Grove and the others in Calgary and Hamilton, Canada.

Where should I park?

Four general parking areas will be serviced by shuttle buses taking people to the event’s main gate.

The parking areas are:

-- Lots 1 and 2 (red): 7160 West Point Douglas Road, at the Metro Transit park-and-ride lot and the vacant Rush nightclub. Use the Jamaica Avenue exit from Highway 61 and go north on West Point Douglas Road. There will be 920 parking spaces.

--  Lot 3 (blue): 7550 95th St. Use the 80th Street exit from Highway 61, and take Hadley Avenue south. Turn left on 95th Street. There will be 1,400 parking spaces.

--  Lot 4 (green): 10500 Innovation Road. There will be 3,800 parking spaces available.

Limited handicap parking will be available near the event entrance.

What if the lots are full?

LED signs will be stationed on northbound and southbound Highway 61 approaching Cottage Grove to alert drivers to the Holiday Train parking exits. The signs will notify drivers of any lot closures.

Can I just walk there?

The city of Cottage Grove encourages people to use the shuttle buses, but you could walk to the event by using Ideal Avenue. The public will not be allowed to cross railroad tracks in the area.

Who’s Sheryl Crow?

Singer Sheryl Crow has had a 20-plus-year career as a recording artist and performer. The multi-Grammy Award winner gained fame in the early 1990s with her first major record, the pop-rock album “Tuesday Night Music Club,” and put out several subsequent albums. She shifted into the country music genre and this year released the album, “Feels Like Home.”

And who’s Take 6?

Take 6 is a long-established spiritual a cappella music group with 10 Grammy Awards and 25 years of performance. The six-member group has released at least 10 albums.

What else can we do?

There are family activities planned in addition to performances by the Holiday Train band The Claytones, which will take place on the train as it has in past years, and Take 6 and Crow, who will perform on a main stage. Canadian Pacific will set up the North Pole Station, a series of tents around the event area that will include children’s holiday crafts, a chance to meet with Santa, a merchandise area (proceeds benefit the food shelf), ice sculpture and Christmas tree displays and refreshments.

Are they serving food?

Don’t plan to eat a major meal at the event, but there will be free cookies available at the North Pole Station.

How about warm drinks?

Hot cocoa will be available at no cost.

There’s beer, right?

No, it’s an alcohol-free event. Organizers said they are not allowing alcohol in order to make it more family-friendly.

What will this cost me?

Nothing. The concert and event is free. There will be merchandise available to purchase.

Are local police helping?

Yes, the Cottage Grove Public Safety Department plans to staff the event with about 20 officers. In addition, reserve officers from Woodbury, St. Paul Park, Washington County, Dakota County and Hastings will assist. Canadian Pacific is paying any public safety overtime costs and providing officers with reflective safety vests.

Are there going to be a lot of people?

That’s a safe bet. Canadian Pacific and the city of Cottage Grove are predicting 20,000 to 30,000 people. In recent years the Cottage Grove Holiday Train stop has drawn 5,000 to 10,000 people.

Where can I take my kid to the bathroom?

There will be portable toilets near the entry to the North Pole Station.

What should I wear?

Much of the event will be outdoors, so dress for cold weather: extra layers, a jacket, boots, gloves, a hat — the usual winter attire. The tents within the North Pole Station will be heated, and there will be portable heat lamps located on the grounds and at the parking lots.

Where can I warm up while I’m there?

The concert program will be outdoors, but there will be heated tents within the Santa Village where you can warm up, get something to drink, visit with Santa or work on a craft project with your kids.

When can I arrive?

The gates will open at 4 p.m. Shuttle buses will begin leaving the parking lots around 3:30 p.m.

Is this going late into the night?

No. The concert is scheduled to end by 7 p.m. People can stick around for a bit and take in the other activities at North Pole Station but it will be winding down after the concert.

Should I bring a food shelf donation?

Canadian Pacific and Friends in Need Food Shelf are encouraging people to donate toiletry items or cash. There will be a donation truck at each parking lot, so people don’t have to carry donations into the event area. There also will be a donation truck at the North Pole Station, and Holiday Train volunteers will be walking around at the event accepting cash donations.

What about the Holiday Train Committee?

In past years the local Holiday Train Committee has handled all of the logistics for the Cottage Grove stop. Due to the larger event this year, Canadian Pacific took over much of the planning and organization, with help from the city of Cottage Grove. The Holiday Train Committee members will be volunteering at the event, such as by greeting people entering tents the North Pole Station. Other local groups also will be volunteering.

Who’s riding the train?

In past years city leaders and community residents rode the Holiday Train from Hastings to Cottage Grove. That will not happen this year, but three people did win tickets at a Holiday Train fundraiser to ride from Hastings to Minneapolis the day before the Cottage Grove visit. They are Rosana Jimenez, Linda Wagner and Carly Slusser.

What if someone gets hurt?

There will be a First-Aid station in the North Pole Station. Local first responders also will be working the event.

It’s outdoors, so can I bring my dog?

Probably not. Except for service dogs, pets are not allowed at the event.

Where’s the next big Holiday Train concert?

There isn’t one. Cottage Grove is the only Holiday Train stop in the United States that was selected to host an anniversary concert.

Are there enough buses?

Organizers say they will be running buses continuously from the parking lots to the event site, so any wait should be brief. Each bus will hold up to about 70 people.

Are they closing roads?

Yes, there will be limited closures, including 95th Street between Jamaica Avenue and Hemingway Avenue.

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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