FLORENCE — When the Shoals Chamber of Commerce's Leadership Shoals group had to come up with a community project, Randa Hovater realized this was an opportunity to do something she had long envisioned for Christmas.

Hovater, manager over media relations for Florence-Lauderdale Tourism, suggested a Tinsel Trail — a collection of Christmas trees that various businesses and organizations would sponsor and decorate.

"This has been something I've been wanting to do for quite some time," said Hovater, a member of this year's Leadership Shoals class. "We have to have a community project for a fundraiser, so I pitched this to the class and they were all for it. We ran with it. All the classmates came together and made it work."

With that, the Shoals Tinsel Trail was created.

The trail lines the sidewalks outside the Florence-Lauderdale Tourism office at McFarland Park.

It contains 52 trees with solar-powered lights. it will remain open through Jan. 6.

"This is open all the time and free, so people just come at any time and take their pictures with a tree and it just brings joy," Hovater said.

She talked with organizers of the popular Tuscaloosa Tinsel Trail to get advice on creating a trail. As it turns out, the Shoals trail has the potential to be very popular, as well.

"The day before the grand opening, we had 12 people ask if they could add a tree, but it was too late," Hovater said.

That tells her the trial will be larger next year.

"We have plenty of room to expand," she said.

Community support was essential to make the trial a success. Hovater said she did not expect this many trees in the first year, so it was a pleasant surprise.

The event also is a fundraiser with each tree costing $250. Proceeds will go to the Sleep in Heavenly Peace program that donates beds to needy children. Funds from this year's event will go toward building some 85 beds.

In addition to the $250 trees, there is an event sponsor tree from TNT Fireworks. It's a large tree that cost $1,000 to sponsor.

Shell's Christmas Tree Farm donated the trees, and Jake's Trailer Sales donated rebar to secure them, Hovater said.

Some businesses bought a tree and allowed civil or charity groups to decorate them in the theme of those organizations.

In addition, Michael Noe's Nationwide Insurance Agency did a memorial to U.S. Marine Cpl. Matthew Conley, a Greenhill native who was killed in action in 2006.

Hovater said they will start accepting sales for the trees earlier next year.

"We started sales at the end of October and ended Nov. 22," she said. "Next year, we'll start in July with a Christmas in July special."

At the end of this season, organizers will recycle the trees, likely by sinking them into various local fishing spots because they make for good fish habitats, Hovater said.

The trail program included awards in various categories. Those, and the winners, include:

• The Holly Jolly Award: Grigsby Properties

• Merry and Bright Award: TNT/St. Jude

• Talk of the Trial Award: Shoals Home Health and Hospice

• Cindy Lou Who Award: Hospice of North Alabama

• Signature Theme Award: People's Trust Bank

bernie.delinski@timesdaily.com or 256-740-5739. Twitter @TD_BDelinski

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