WEBB CITY, Mo. — The Polar Bear Express trolley ride around King Jack Park has been canceled this year over safety concerns regarding COVID-19.
The 104-year-old streetcar No. 60 is operated by Southwest Missouri Electric Railroad Association volunteers. Carl Francis, city administrator, said many of the trolley volunteers expressed concerns to the city because some are elderly and are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
Francis said the city and volunteers explored different options including a mask requirement and limited capacity seating, but one of the biggest comments they receive each year is there aren’t enough tickets. Polar Bear Express tickets usually go on sale for $2 the first weekend in November.
“The Polar Bear Express is so popular that we need more tickets, not less,” said Francis. “We just made the decision this year, out of an abundance of caution, to not conduct the Polar Bear Express Trolley. It would be impossible to social distance in a trolley. We don’t like it. It was a tough decision, and we received input by all.”
Last year, the Webb City Parks and Recreation Department sold 4,400 tickets for the 10-day event. Night spots sold out within 48 hours last year, according to Tom Reeder, parks and recreation director.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen this fall, and everything is changing so rapidly,” he said. “We didn’t want to sell 4,400 tickets and find out that we couldn’t do it. The other concern was the safety of our patrons, volunteers who drive the trolley and city employees being in a confined space. It’s already an exhausting event for all of us, and I didn’t feel comfortable adding nights to the program.”
Reeder launched Polar Bear Express about 11 years ago, when it originally started as an afternoon reading program on the trolley and then expanded.
The parks department will offer a roadside drive-thru Christmas light display along King Jack Park in place of the Polar Bear Express. A local Webb City radio station, 98.5 KWEB-LP, will play Christmas-themed music from 6 to 10 p.m. every evening in December. The lights will be displayed from Dec. 2 to Jan. 1.
“This will give us a good opportunity to get a grasp on the types of challenges we’ll face in the future when doing a drive-thru program, like where we’ll need electrical outlets and signage,” said Reeder. “It will be interesting for us this year. I’m going to miss the trolley, but I’m looking forward to seeing how a drive-thru layout will look.”
The drive-thru program will begin each night at the statue of the kneeling miner in front of King Jack Park and wind through the park, where it will finish on Pennsylvania Street at the foot of the Praying Hands landmark. The east park entrance at Hall Street and Robert J. Baker Parkway will be closed to vehicle traffic each day from 5 p.m. to 7 a.m.
A detailed map is posted on the Webb City Parks & Recreation Facebook page.