The Christmas Train project coming to Hampton’s Doe River Gorge

Published 5:58 pm Wednesday, April 27, 2022

A $5.85 million project announced Wednesday by Doe River Gorge in Hampton is the biggest project in the ministry’s history.
The project called The Christmas Train is expected to draw thousands as a new family attraction to the ministry.
“During the summer months Doe River Gorge hosts hundreds of kids for summer camps, and in the fall we host a number of retreats and other activities, but from early November to mid-January, people are focused on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s,” said Terry Maughon,  president of Doe River Gorge.
“Things slow down during that time. A few years ago, our board began exploring ways to expand the ministry during the slow season, and in 2013 we learned of a camp in Oklahoma doing something called The Christmas Train. We made an exploratory trip there to see if they were doing something that could be implemented here at Doe River Gorge. We were mesmerized by what we saw. Each year they would sell 60,000 tickets in less than one hour.”
The Christmas Train took visitors on a train ride through 43 large storyboards with Disney-quality lighting that told the story of the Bible from Creation to the Resurrection.
Doe River Gorge purchased a steam locomotive in 2014. In 2016, after a three-day visit back to Oklahoma in 2016, the owners of The Christmas Train offered to sell the setup to Doe River Gorge.
The purchase included over 1,000 costumes, 39 Christmas trees professionally decorated, 1,500 feet of decorated garland, and over 210 Christmas wreaths.
All of the assets were transported from Dry Gulch in Oklahoma to Doe River Gorge requiring 57 trailer loads to get it to Hampton. The goal is to install 2.2 miles of rail out in front of the Gorge as well as loading platforms, an engine house, and a house to store costumes.
Maughon added that the hope is to be operational by Christmas 2023.
Former Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge is the Co-Chair of the project and told those who attended the press conference that he was “excited to be a part of this.”
“It is pretty amazing to consider just the scope of this $6 million project, but the opportunity to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ to those that may never have the opportunity otherwise,” said Eldridge. “It is important to remember this ministry has been here for going  on 25 years and it is still growing, is still viable, and still relative as it changes the lives of hundreds of people every year.”
Mitch Cox and his wife were the first $1 million donor to the project.
Cox said he has been asked why he would just give away $1 million dollars to a project such as this and offered three reasons.
  • Doe River Gorge has been doing a fabulous job of leading people to Christ and bringing kids that are sometimes lost to help them create self esteem.
  • This is an opportunity with the Christmas Train to have another ministry to spread the gospel at another time of year and bring all these economic benefits to the community and Doe River Gorge to sustain ministry for who knows how long.
  • The Bible tells us that for whom much is given much is expected and I have been blessed.
Another regional business who is providing a significant contribution is Meade Tractors, which is providing the heavy equipment to build the railroad track.
“I had never heard of Doe River Gorge and had never been here until last year when our oldest daughter came to camp here and on the drive home she was so excitedly telling me about how God had impacted her life and this year is coming back for a couple of camps,” said Meade Tractor owner Chuck Meade. “It changed her life. For me it is a personal blessing. We are excited about this opportunity.”
Neil Poland, president of Mullican Flooring and the co-chair of the project,  said the opportunity to partner with the Christmas Train came as a passion after seeing and hearing of the project.
“This is a huge opportunity for me to partner with a project that tells the real story of Christmas to thousands of visitors each year,” Poland said. “I got chills thinking about what this can accomplish. It is going to bring tremendous awareness to the region. I told my wife that this was going to be bigger than Noah’s Ark located in Kentucky and we are only 15 minutes from it.”

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