Berg Park, San Juan College will play host to events

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FARMINGTON — As the director of student activities at San Juan College, Amanda Robles oversees a wide variety of projects on campus each year. But the most demanding of those events is the one she finds herself engaged in leading this week.

With nearly 200 kindergartners and first-grade students from Country Club Elementary School scurrying about a parking lot at the college on a warm and sunny Wednesday afternoon, Robles was overseeing their efforts to help prepare for the college's annual luminarias display this weekend. The 40th annual event takes place Saturday night on the campus, 4601 College Blvd. in Farmington, with walkers able to begin enjoying the display at 5 p.m. and the route opening to motorists at 6 p.m. The event lasts until 8 p.m.

The youngsters who were helping fill sacks with sand Wednesday afternoon represented just a fraction of the total number of volunteers who will pitch in to make the display a reality. Robles said students from Mesa Verde and McKinley elementary schools worked on the project Wednesday morning, as had students from Animas Elementary on Tuesday.

The event also draws volunteers from San Juan College, as well as other schools, and community and church groups. All told, approximately 1,000 people will pitch in to assemble and place the 25,000 luminarias featuring 15 tons of sand that make up the display, illustrating why college officials label it a true community effort.

Robles has been a member of the San Juan College staff for nine years, but this is her first year overseeing the luminarias display. Despite the din all around her Wednesday afternoon, Robles had a broad smile on her face and appeared to be enjoying the experience.

"It's been really great to see the students' creativity. … I'm very happy with it. It's been going very well," she said.

The luminarias display at the college will be preceded by another one a day earlier, as the annual Riverglo event takes place in Berg Park in Farmington. Presented by the nonprofit River Reach Foundation, Riverglo takes place from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, also relying heavily on the efforts of hundreds of volunteers.

River Reach Foundation board member Bob Lehmer has been part of the event since its inception 21 years ago and said organizers wanted to come up with something to fill the gap between the annual downtown Farmington Christmas Parade and the college's luminaria display two nights later. They settled on an event that would draw attention to the Animas River, a project that dovetails nicely with their organization's mission.

"This is about people getting outdoors and getting fresh air, and just enjoying the music," he said. "We really do have a lot of fun."

Riverglo features approximately 2,000 luminarias set along the river trails, as well as bonfires and tents where visitors can enjoy hot chocolate, cider and popcorn while listening to choral groups from Ladera Elementary School, Farmington and Piedra Vista high schools, the First Baptist Church, and San Juan College. Members of the San Juan Jazz Society also will perform, and a live Nativity scene will be presented by members of Sunrise Christian Church. There also will be appearances by Santa Claus and the Grinch, and glow sticks will be distributed to visitors.

Students from Hermosa Middle School will begin placing the luminarias in the park at 9 a.m. Friday, and members of a local Boy Scouts of America troop will retrieve them immediately after the event ends that night. Lehmer said organizers have the routine down cold after more than 20 years.

"We've done it so many times," he said.

He said city officials estimated 3,500 people attended last year's event.

"We just really enjoy helping the city promote the river trails, and this is an exciting way to do it," he said.

The college's luminarias display draws an even bigger crowd, attracting in excess of 10,000 viewers when the weather is good, Robles said. Those who choose to walk through the display will be encouraged to stop in at the campus eatery, Mary's Kitchen, and purchase snacks and beverages. Additionally, the college Planetarium will present a free public stargaze with telescopes from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Saturday in the college courtyard.

Those who choose to drive through the display will enter the campus from Butler Avenue traveling north on Sunrise Parkway and follow the marked route. Drivers will exit at College Boulevard and will be required to turn south. The Piñon Hills Boulevard entrance to the college will be closed during the display.

All drivers will be asked to turn off their lights as they drive through the display. They are encouraged to tune in to the campus radio station, KSJE-FM 90.9, which will be broadcasting Christmas carols during the event. Robles said a line quickly forms at the entrance to the campus, and motorists can expect to wait approximately an hour to make the drive.

On Sunday, the college luminarias will be available for members of the public to take home.

Call 505-716-4405 for more information about Riverglo. Call 505-566-3403 for more information about the college's luminarias display.

Mike Easterling is the night editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.

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