Willow Reindeer Project to light up Nevada
For more than a decade, reindeer-shaped willow sculptures adorned with Christmas lights have illuminated Highway 395 during the holidays.
Jack’s Valley Elementary school first-grader Adeliya Gray, 6, said Santa gives the reindeer magic lights and many would agree that is true.
Willow Bill, founder of The Willow Reindeer Project, has worked with children in Carson Valley and surrounding communities to create what he calls the nation’s largest art project.
Thousands of children from Minden, Scarselli, Piñon Hills and Gardnerville elementary schools have helped build reindeer from willow branches that are displayed at more than 250 businesses and organizations from Corely Ranch through Carson City.
“The reindeer span over 70 miles and it’s growing,” said Willow Bill. “The goal is to go from Topaz to Border Town and create a dot-to-dot of our children’s art work and light up 395 with lit-up reindeer.”
Before the Willow Reindeer Project began in 1998, Willow Bill made willow furniture. One day he was asked by a 2-year-old he was looking after why he doesn’t make reindeer.
Flash forward 19 years later and the project has become a part of the holiday season. The Capitol building, Legislative building and the Supreme Court display the one-of a-kind Willow Reindeer created by students in Nevada every year.
This year, Jacks Valley Elementary School’s first- and fourth-grade students pulled up their sleeves, as first-grader Kaleb Florence said, to help with the project.
Willow Bill combined art with history, math, geometry and geography, whatever the children were learning in class he tied in their lessons with the project, making it fun and educational.
“He gets involved with the students and interacts with them,” said fourth-grade teacher Serra Wheeler. “He asks what they’re learning in class and incorporates that with the reindeer. He made it fun.”
Nine-year-old Riley Gray said Willow Bill would ask the students a math question and if they got it right, they got to put together a part of the reindeer.
When the reindeer were finished the students signed their names on them. From there they are distributed around the community to light the streets for the holiday season.
Nine-year old Evelyn Hernandez said it’s nice that Willow Bill does this with the schools and puts the reindeer out around town.
“It makes me feel good to be a part of it because I get to help out the community,” Hernandez said.
The Willow Bill Reindeer Project has captivated the imagination of students, families and community members so much over the years that Gov. Brian Sandoval has proclaimed Dec. 1-8 as Willow Reindeer Project week in Nevada for the fourth consecutive year.
“I would like to say thank you to all who have helped and will help with the project,” Willow Bill said. “It’s because of the community involvement this is such a big success.”
Willow Bill said the reindeer will be put out Saturday and help is needed. Volunteers meet at noon at the Carson Mall, 1227 South Carson Street.
New this year, Willow Bill will participate in the Christmas Craft Faire Dec. 2-3 at the Carson Mall.
He said there is a chance to meet the reindeer maker, make your own reindeer and take it home, and play reindeer games including “Reindeer Toss,” “Reindeer relay,” trivia, “pin the willow on the reindeer” and more.
Reindeer making is by appointment only and games must be preregistered.
For more information call Willow Bill, 775-842-3594.