New venue, parking for Portage Holiday Train visit
Portage Assistant Police Chief Keith Klafke has one word for Canadian Pacific Holiday Train spectators who are thinking of parking in the usual place and walking across the tracks to see the show.
When the decorated train with the fold-down boxcar stage arrives in Portage at 1:15 p.m. Saturday for a live music show from 1:30 to 2 p.m., the viewing venue will not be on the south side of the tracks near the Amtrak depot.
Due to ongoing construction, it will be almost impossible to reach the site from the vicinity of Oneida Street, where spectators have parked in past years, Klafke said
“We want to make sure people don’t go to the depot — and obviously, that they don’t cross the tracks,” he said.
Police Chief Ken Manthey said the depot parking lot will not be off-limits to Holiday Train viewers, but people who park there will have a very long walk to the viewing area, in a CP Rail parking lot (with a red No. 7 sign) just off Averbeck Street, between Volk and Reid streets.
There should be some parking on Averbeck Street. But because it’s a narrow, seldom-traveled street, police will determine the designated side for parking and post it on Saturday.
Alliant Energy has a parking lot off Averbeck Street, where a limited number of spaces will be available, but the parking lot that is the designated viewing area will not be open to vehicle traffic or parking.
The best bets for parking, according to Manthey, are the nearby residential streets, including West Albert, Volk, Schneider and Haertel streets.
Flashing signs from the Columbia County Highway Department will be set up Saturday along New Pinery Road near West Albert Street to direct Holiday Train spectators toward on-street parking in the vicinity of the viewing area.
“People just have to be patient, and be prepared to walk,” he said.
Portage’s Volunteers in Police Service, as well as Portage firefighters, will be on hand Saturday to direct people to the parking and viewing areas.
Klafke said there will be limited off-street parking in some nearby lots, but in most cases, people should plan to arrive early, park along neighborhood streets and probably walk a little farther than may be customary.
The Portage Curling Club, 107 W. Albert St., has a parking lot and a few angle parking spots.
But chances are, every one of those spots will be full, said Andy Murphy, Curling Club building chairman.
That’s because Portage is hosting a national qualifying bonspiel from Friday through Sunday, with dozens of male and female curlers, age 21 and younger, from all over the state.
“Honestly, the parking lot will be full by the time the train gets there,” Murphy said. “Chances are, all of our parking will be full. So people should plan accordingly.”
The Holiday Train, a tradition entering its 20th year, makes stops in numerous cities in the United States and Canada each December to put on a show of seasonal music and to collect money and non-perishable food items for local food pantries.
The Portage stop typically attracts more than 1,000 people — usually many more, if the weather is favorable and the stop happens on a weekend. The National Weather Service has forecast Saturday to be sunny, with a high of 23.
Because many people come from out of town for the Holiday Train, the Portage Police Department is putting out the word about the new viewing location, and the parking areas, on social media, Klafke said.
The usual attractions at any holiday train — including food pantry donation stations and cookies and cocoa courtesy of the Rotary Club — will be found in the viewing area, he said.
But the audience will be kept about 15 feet back from the stage, even though the Portage audience is accustomed to standing much closer.
Klafke noted the stage can fold down from either side of the specially-equipped boxcar, and will fold down from the north side of the car this year.
When the stage is folded down, it consumes about 10 feet of space.
Despite police efforts to keep the crowds back from the stage at past Portage Holiday Train stops, Klafke said, “Sometimes the crowd gets so close they can almost touch the stage.”
People won’t get that close this year, he said, but planners believe the overall viewing experience will be better, and safer.
The show, featuring singer Willy Porter and the group Trews, is free, but food pantry donations are encouraged.