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Pullen Park's Holiday Express canceled amid staffing shortage

Posted October 26, 2021 1:05 p.m. EDT
Updated October 26, 2021 10:50 p.m. EDT

— The annual Holiday Express at Pullen Park has been canceled this year, Raleigh Parks' officials announced Tuesday.

The parks department cited a lack of staffing required to run the annual event. Raleigh Parks Director Oscar Carmona said the department requires 80 people to run the event with a combination of staff and volunteers.

Without enough people to help, the event can't provide the experience they strive for.

"I'm not happy at all," Carmona said. "That's one of our signature events for the Raleigh Parks and Recreation Culture Resources Department and it's something that we look forward to every year. Unfortunately, we just don't have the resources where we feel that we can go ahead and deliver that exceptional experience to everybody."

Another reason that's being pointed to is the 'great resignation' taking place across the nation as people leave jobs and openings aren't filled. One reason why - people want to be paid more. The pay scale for Raleigh Parks and Recreation ranges from $8 from $12 an hour, depending on the position.

"You have to bring that floor up," said Dr. Henry McKoy with the North Carolina Central University School of Business. "Whether you're waiting tables, bartending, or CNA or something in the health field. Folks are expecting to get paid more."

The Holiday Express takes over Pullen Park for multiple days each December with visits with Santa, train and carousel rides, crafts, Christmas music and much more.

The popular, family-friendly event, which can sell out thousands of tickets in under an hour, didn't take place in 2020 due to COVID-19.

"This event requires an incredible number of staff and volunteers to run successfully. Unfortunately, we are not at a staffing level this year to provide our guests with an exceptional experience," parks officials wrote in a statement. "We are very disappointed and know that our community will be too. This is an event we look forward to every year. We are hard at work planning other ways to bring you holiday cheer!"

There will be other holiday events moving forward this year, including the Polar Express at the N.C. Transportation Museum.

In Raleigh, the WRAL Nights of Lights will return to Dix Park from Nov. 21-Dec. 24. Tickets are on sale now for this drive-thru event, which features a light show across a 1.3-mile route. Illuminated trees, festive light displays, and local art installations help make this event a must-see. The event will also feature less traffic than last year, as the number of tickets available for each night has been reduced by half.