As the sun disappeared over the tops of trees in North Hempstead Beach Park, the water in Hempstead Harbor began to light up.
Thousands of people from across Long Island made their way down to the water’s edge at sunset Saturday to set lanterns afloat as part of the first-ever Long Island Water Lantern Festival.
“The line to get in was a little long, but otherwise it was great,” said Haemar, who was visiting from Bayside with her boyfriend and declined to give her last name. “It looks beautiful.”
The event was planned by One World Water Lantern Festival, a for-profit organization based in Utah that has held similar events across the United States. At each festival, attendees construct a four-sided floating lantern that contains an LED light. The sides of the lantern can be decorated with drawings, sayings or prayers.
The event was organized by Joey McKnight, who has had a hand in planning some of the 50 such events that have been held this year alone. McKnight said the idea was inspired by floating sky lanterns, which originated in Asia.
“We’re an event company and we were looking for a new event to jump into,” he said, adding that he had previously helped plan 5K runs. “We saw there was a lot of interest in sky lanterns and things like that, but nobody was doing anything in the water. So instead of lighting up the sky, we put lanterns in the water and it’s really taken off for us.”
The cost for a ticket was $30 to $40, which covered the cost of the water lantern and LED light. McKnight told Newsday last week that he was expecting about 3,000 people to attend but said Monday that he ended up selling all 4,000 of his water lanterns.
McKnight stressed that he tried to keep the festivals as local as possible. In addition to the lantern launch, there were live music and several local food trucks. The food trucks proved to be very popular and had long lines.
“It would have been nice if it were a little more organized, especially with the food trucks,” said Michelle of Baldwin, who declined to give her last name. “But the festival as a whole was very beautiful, and I hope they do it again.”
The festivities began at 5 p.m. with the lantern launch starting after sundown, a little after 8 p.m. Thousands of visitors stuck their toes in the water to launch their lanterns and take plenty of pictures.
The lanterns are made of rice paper and wood to make them “eco-friendly” and are cleaned up after the event. A long rope confined the lanterns to one section of the bay and prevented them from escaping into Long Island Sound.
McKnight said that locations for the event are scouted through Google Maps.
“We identify markets we would like to go to, and then we look at places on maps and talk with park departments,” he said. “We found Port Washington through Google Maps, and it seemed like the perfect fit.”
He said the organization would be open to hosting the event at North Hempstead Beach Park again.
“It’s a great venue with lots of parking and lounge space,” he said. “And the water was ideal. There’s a lot of beaches with waves, and we’ve got to find places without a lot of wave activity. This was one of those places.”
Reach reporter Luke Torrance by email at [email protected], by phone at 516-307-1045, ext. 214, or follow him on Twitter @LukeATorrance