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All Aboard for the North Pole

Popular “Polar Express” train event to arrive in Stearns at BSFSRY

By Eugenia Jones

Excited youngsters and adults will soon be eagerly answering the conductor’s call of “all aboard” as the popular Warner Brothers Consumer Products, Inc. and Rail Events Inc. “Polar Express” locomotive pulls out of the Big South Fork Scenic Railway (BSFSRY) depot station in Stearns, KY for weekend round trip excursions to the North Pole.

The Polar Express train event is a Warner Brothers and Rail Events production based on Chris Van Alleburg’s 1985 book (and movie) of the same name. The event is designed to give passengers a Polar Express experience as families enjoy the reading of the book and activities replicating scenes from the movie. The story is about a doubting boy who boards a magical train ride on Christmas Eve which takes him to the North Pole where he receives a special gift from Santa.

The Stearns Polar Express will operate on weekends beginning November 24 through December 23. On November 22, two dress rehearsal trips will be open to McCreary County residents without charge in order to provide practice sessions for the on-train entertainers and as a gesture of appreciation from the railway for the community’s support of the event. First class tickets for the Polar express are $55.00, and coach tickets are $40.00.

Having negotiated the Polar Express contract earlier in the year during the six month tenure of former BSFSRY train manager, Michael Gresham, the McCreary County Heritage Foundation is excited about bringing the high quality train event to Stearns. With the potential to draw as many as thirteen thousand tourists to Stearns and the surrounding area, the event will provide a much needed boost to local tourism efforts. Currently, the nearest Polar Express train rides are in Bryson City, North Carolina and French Lick, Indiana. During the 2016 season, over 84,000 passengers rode the Polar Express train at the Great Smokey Mountains Railroad in Bryson City.

With the capability of hauling 320 passengers per train run, the Stearns Polar Express event coordinator, Lou Capwell, recommends passengers arrive in Stearns approximately an hour prior to their train’s scheduled departure time. Early arrival ensures passengers will have adequate time to pick up tickets, enjoy Polar Express activities, and walk around the town to visit the Sweet Kreations Gift Shop and Fudgery, Mehg’s Pottery, and Stearns’ McCreary County Museum. Due to demand and the limited number of seats, it is highly recommended to purchase tickets on line at the newly developed Stearns Polar Express site or from the Big South Fork Scenic Railway website.

Upon arrival in Stearns, passengers will be greeted by Christmas lights and parking attendants. Passengers will visit the Stearns Heritage Hall to pick up their tickets and browse the Polar Express Gift Shop. Special activities for children (coloring, letter to Santa, etc.) will be available. A photographer will also be available for those wishing to purchase photographs with Santa.

After boarding the Polar Express and embarking for the North Pole, passengers will enjoy a tasty treat of hot chocolate and cookies and special reading presentation of the book, “Polar Express.” On the return trip, Santa will distribute Christmas bells to passengers.

The Polar Express event will add about a dozen seasonal jobs in the community, however, the production cast will be made up primarily of local volunteers. Local students will be heavily involved as on train entertainers.

“Personally, I see so much potential in Polar Express here at the Big South Fork Scenic Railway and also in Stearns itself,” Capwell commented. “This event will be a boon to the local economy, not only in terms of dollars spent at the event, but in heightened awareness of just what McCreary County has to offer. This is truly a community, and being able to showcase that fact in a new way will pay dividends for years to come.”

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