SRU class organizing inaugural Slippery Rock Festival of Trees


Tree being set up

A 35-foot artificial Christmas tree installed at Memorial Park in Slippery Rock is the focal point of the Slippery Rock Festival of Trees. Organized by students in SRU's Event Productions class, this 10-day event will take place during three weekends in December with food and craft vendors and horse carriage rides.

Nov. 19, 2021

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. — Students in an Event Production and Coordination class at Slippery Rock University need events to coordinate and tourists need more reasons to visit Slippery Rock on the weekends in December. That's where the Slippery Rock Festival of Trees comes in. This new festival will bring craft and food vendors to Memorial Park, at the corner of Main and Cooper streets, for 10 days during the holiday season, and is being organized by students and faculty from SRU's Hospitality and Tourism Management Department.

"As event producers, our job is to activate tourism, and Slippery Rock is wonderful place to do that during the holidays," said Mary Jo Ross, associate professor of hospitality and tourism management. "We want people to come here from Pittsburgh or Ohio or other places from the surrounding areas to visit the tree, take a horse carriage ride, see a glassblower and get some good food and drinks. They don't have to go to the city; they can have their Hallmark Movie moments right here."

Mary Jo Ross


There will be plenty of opportunities for these moments as well. After a "soft opening" that coincides with the Slippery Rock Borough's "Light the Rock" event, 4-7 p.m., Nov. 20, the Festival of Trees will take place for three consecutive weekends, Dec. 3-5, 10-12 and 17-19, from 4-8 p.m., Fridays and noon to 8 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

North Country Brewing Co. is the presenting sponsor, while Coexist Glass Gallery is an Evergreen sponsor, the highest of three available sponsorship levels ranging from $100-500.

Glass artists such as Coexist will be a featured attraction to the event, but the focal point is the 35-foot artificial Christmas tree that once graced downtown Orlando, Florida, that was installed for the event with the help of Slippery Rock Development Inc., the Slippery Rock Volunteer Fire Company and the Slippery Rock Municipal Authority. Ross, who spent most of her career as an event producer in Orlando before joining the SRU faculty in 2019, acquired the tree from Orlando's Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress hotel so that her students could host holiday events.

The tree was installed during the holidays last year and there was a virtual lighting ceremony, but because of COVID-19 safety precautions, the inaugural year of the Festival of Trees was delayed until 2021. While adapting during the pandemic was a learning experience for students, having in-person events to organize is an essential learning experience for students interested in working in the hospitality industry.

"(Hospitality, tourism and event management) is an applied field, so by creating field experiences like this, it gives our students an opportunity to succeed," Ross said. "It's like being a nurse, you eventually have to touch a patient or a syringe or something that you are going to be working with."

Ross refers to the Event Production and Coordination class sessions as planning committee meetings, as the 10 students in the class have assigned roles and are working together to produce the Festival of Trees, from marketing and securing sponsorships to decorating and working with the borough to handle logistics, such as closing off a side street for pedestrian traffic.



Nicole Haas, a senior resort, recreation and hospitality management major from Pittsburgh, is the event controller who sends invoices to the sponsors and keeps the financial records.

"We benefit by being able to put an event together from start to finish," said Haas, 36, who is a nontraditional student and is attending SRU while also working at Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh. "I've helped with events before, but not as hands-on and in a way where I can use creativity like I am in this class where we are bringing different groups in. You can't really get experience like that unless you're actually working in an event planning (organization), and they want experience, so this is the perfect opportunity for us to (get that experience)."

Haas said that an event like this benefits not only the students but the community as a whole.

"This event gives students something to look forward to do on the weekends here in Slippery Rock and it'll draw more people into the community," Haas said. "This also helps support the small businesses and restaurants here in town. It's just a great opportunity for everyone that's local."

More information about the resort, recreation and hospitality management programs at SRU is available on the Hospitality and Tourism Management Department webpage.

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