A local family tradition returned to Stone Zoo this past Thanksgiving: ZooLights.
ZooLights is an annual festive holiday-themed event known for its decorations and dazzling lights display.
But, what does it takes to create this large urban oasis of holiday festivities?
Since 1996, Stone Zoo has organized this event, adorning tree-lined paths with all the sparkling illuminations of the holiday season. Faced with such a huge undertaking annually, the Zoo begins preliminary planning as soon as the previous season's ZooLights festival ends.
"The lights are ordered in the spring and work begins right after Labor Day," said Brooke Wardrop, director of communications for Stone Zoo.
Wardrop said event preparation involves getting all the decorations, attractions and lights up and running in time for the first night of the new season. In all, Zoo staff members string up about 250,000 lights, covering an area upwards of three acres.
No independent contractors are called in to do the work.
"Each year, in addition to the 16 staff members that handle most of the work, we also work with different volunteer groups," said Wardrop.
The Zoo anticipates about 39,000 visitors this year, with the busiest nights typically being Thursday through Sunday as well as the week before Christmas.
What should visitors make sure not to miss while touring the site?
"All of the decorated areas of the Zoo look beautiful," says Wardrop. "There's Yukon Creek — home to a bald eagle, a North American porcupine, a gray fox, a lynx and reindeer — and it features a winding path with trees adorned with multi-colored twinkling lights."
Designed to resemble a Canadian arboreal forest, Yukon Creek features a logger's cabin, which is festively decorated for ZooLights. "Guests can peek inside the windows to see the inside decorated in a holiday scene," Wardrop adds.
Santa's Castle is always a popular spot where guests can walk along a winding path featuring lights and holiday displays. Santa Claus is available for photographs through Dec. 23.
"ZooLights is a wonderful opportunity to experience the Zoo and is the perfect way to get into the holiday spirit," said Wardrop. "This is a beloved annual tradition, and we hope people will visit us throughout the holiday season to enjoy the lights and visit with the incredible animals that call the Zoo home."
ZooLights is open through Sunday, Jan. 2 from 5-9 p.m. However, ZooLights will be closed on Dec. 25.
For more information on ZooLights and to order tickets, visit Stone Zoo's website.