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Tinsel Trail becomes a Tuscaloosa tradition

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Tinsel Trail becomes a Tuscaloosa tradition

CW/ Austin Bigoney

CW/ Austin Bigoney

CW/ Austin Bigoney

CW/ Austin Bigoney

Desi Gillespie, Staff Reporter

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Beloved by students as much as local families, the Tinsel Trail has become a hallmark of the holiday season. The festive trees and the ice skating rink at the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater allow the UA community to create traditions away from home.

The trail lines the western end of Tuscaloosa’s scenic Riverwalk, which is decked out with holiday spirit in the form of over 150 Christmas trees. The Tuscaloosa Symphony Orchestra decorated a tree in musical instruments, the Tuscaloosa Sister Cities adorned a tree in their national flags, and several sponsors used their trees to show the theme of their businesses.

The event is hosted by Tuscaloosa’s One Place, a family resource center in the downtown area. Costs to sponsor trees on the Tinsel Trail benefit the operations of the organization and keep the event free for all visitors.

“It’s so nice for us to be able to do something that’s a fundraiser that doesn’t cost families anything to enjoy,” said Ashley Cornelius-Hester, Tuscaloosa’s One Place director of communications and family services. “We serve West Alabama with about 20 different programs. … We do a lot of different things to serve the whole family and be a one-stop shop for our local families in need.”

Businesses and individuals from the Tuscaloosa area sponsor the trees on the Tinsel Trail for $300 to $600 each. These groups often decorate their trees, but they can also be donated so that others may decorate them. This year, a tree was donated to Cottondale Elementary School and adorned with ornaments from each classroom.

UA students have taken to the Tinsel Trail as much as the local community over the last six years. It has become a hot spot for date nights and hangouts during the holiday season.

“Two years ago, Amelia and I went on our first date to the Tuscaloosa Riverwalk, and we didn’t expect much other than a nice place to go for a walk,” said Sam Donley, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering. “To our surprise, we discovered hundreds of trees, each decorated uniquely in exciting new ways, and we spent the next two hours looking at all the different trees.”

Donley and his girlfriend, Amelia Volpe, a junior double-majoring in English and history, made a tradition out of going to the Tinsel Trail on the anniversary of their first date. The two out-of-state students met in a campus ministry at the University and started dating during the holiday season their freshman year.

“Last year for our first anniversary, we went back and did the same thing, that time starting at the [Tuscaloosa] Amphitheater,” Volpe said. “We walked the whole Tinsel Trail, and then we came back around and went ice skating.”

Still more students continue to discover the Riverwalk’s holiday festivities. Michigan native Nicoletta Valenzano, a junior majoring in psychology and public health, volunteers at Tuscaloosa’s One Place through the AmeriCorps program. This year, Valenzano attended the event for the first time.

“I went and checked it out, and it’s a really cool thing to see all the different businesses coming together as a community,” Valenzano said. “If you go ice skating, you can see all the trees down there, and there’s Candy Cane Lane and stuff like that with the rest of the Riverwalk.”

Now in its sixth year, the Tinsel Trail and its events, like Pet Night and Sunday with Santa, have become extremely popular in the Tuscaloosa community. The Riverwalk has become a place that helps to usher in the holiday spirit for families and students, and though attendance is free, the success of the event greatly benefits local families at Tuscaloosa’s One Place.

“We’re a small agency coordinating a large, successful event, and one thing we always need is more hands to set up and take down the trees,” Cornelius-Hester said. “One of the things we say is that it takes a lot of hands and many hours to make Tinsel Trail shine, so if you’re interested in being part of the trail, there are several ways you can help.”

For more information on this year’s festivities, visit www.ttowntinsel.com, or find its page on Facebook or Instagram. For ways to volunteer with Tinsel Trail, visit www.ttowntinsel.com/volunteers.

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Tinsel Trail becomes a Tuscaloosa tradition