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Sleigh ride through Park City has become a tradition

Children parents Park City visit with SantakCity Engineer Ken Magnum during city's annual 'Sant is Coming Town' event Sunday Dec.

Children and parents in Park City visit with Santa, aka City Engineer Ken Magnum, during the city's annual "Sant is Coming to Town" event on Sunday, Dec. 15. | JUDY MASTERSON~SUN-TIMES MEDIA

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Free Trees

Park City will distribute free Christmas trees to city residents on a first-come, first-served basis this week. The trees were donated by a Wisconsin farmer, according to Mayor Steve Pannell. For more information, call City Hall at (847) 623-5030.

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Updated: February 14, 2014 4:16AM

Kids waiting for a visit from Santa Claus in Park City don’t listen for sleigh bells, they listen for sirens.

The jolly old elf and his Mrs. come to town each holiday season, led by a police escort, traveling in a sleigh atop a trailer bed. Up and down the streets of the city’s 6.7 square miles they ride, delivering candy and posing for photos with children who come running.

“They hear us coming,” said longtime Mayor Steve Pannell, who rides in the lead squad car driven by Police Chief Walter Holderbaum. “They absolutely love it.”

The drive-by Santa spectacle hit the streets on a freezing Sunday morning, winding through neighborhoods of neatly-kept mobile homes, sirens blaring, Christmas carols playing over a loudspeaker.

Eleven-year-old Gael ran outside, without a coat, wearing just his Mario Brothers pajamas, to reach for a bag of goodies. What did he think of Santa?

“He’s awesome!” he said.

Young Rolf Baker, clutching a stuffed Ninja turtle, was also pleased with the visit.

“Nice,” he said, then asked his mother to take him back inside.

“It’s cold out here,” he said.

“We love it,” said Kathy Baker. “Even with the cutbacks, it’s one of the things the city’s been able to fund. We look forward to it every year.”

The tradition started 32 years ago, when patrol officer Al Loggins rode through the town atop the hood of a squad car.

“He was a big man,” said Santa chauffeur, Park City Police officer Danny Oldham. “Half my vision was off.”

Current Santa, city engineer Ken Magnum, and Mrs. Claus, 2nd Ward Alderman Fabiola Ortega, have a safer perch, thanks to some Christmas angels who built and donated a wooden sleigh that each December is decked-out with a space heater.

It takes Santa about 10 hours to complete his rounds and by nightfall, the sleigh, festooned with lights and garland, is a lovely site, said Pannell.

Why does Santa have such a firm hold on the town?

“It’s a tradition,” Pannell insists with a twinkle in his eye.

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