Raleigh cancels Holiday Express at Pullen Park, but not to fight COVID spread

The city of Raleigh’s Holiday Express has been canceled for the second year in a row.

While the 2020 event was canceled due to COVID-19 concerns, this year’s cancellation is due to inadequate staffing, according to a Raleigh news release.

The event requires “an incredible number of staff and volunteers to run successfully,” according to the release.

“Unfortunately, we are not at a staffing level this year to provide our guests with an exceptional experience,” it stated. “We are very disappointed and know that our community will be too. This is an event we look forward to every year.”

The city will offer other holiday-related events including the Nights of Lights event happening at Dix Park from Nov. 21-Dec. 24.

This annual event normally draws thousands of children and their families for train rides, carousel rides, holiday lights, arts, crafts and a chance to meet Santa Claus at Pullen Park.

More than 16,000 tickets were sold in 2019, The News & Observer previously reported.

Tickets have not been sold for the 2021 event.


It takes about 80 people a night to staff the Holiday Express, including 20 volunteers, said Julia Milstead, Raleigh’s public information officer. There are 70 vacancies across the city’s parks system.

The Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Department has a 16% vacancy rate for full-time employees, according to a presentation made to the Raleigh City Council last week.

The vacancy rate was less than 5% at the start of the pandemic in February 2020 and was around 8% in February 2021.

The parks department isn’t the only department with a higher vacancy rate. The Police Department vacancy rate is at 18% compared to 9% in February 2019. The city’s transportation department has a vacancy rate of 15% compared to 9% in February 2019.

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