Lights Before Christmas delights zoo visitorsWritten by Danielle Stanton | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Beginning in early August, a core crew of 12 to 15 employees from the horticulture department starts stringing a million lights on branches and trunks across the zoo.
If all the lights were strung end to end, they would stretch nearly 70 miles.
The Toledo Zoo’s annual Lights Before Christmas opened Nov. 14 with the lighting of its 85-foot-tall Norway Spruce near the conservatory. More than 35,000 energy-efficient LED lights cover the big tree — almost three miles of lights.
“It’s become a tradition for so many families, not just locally but regionally,” said Andi Norman, director of marketing and public relations at the Toledo Zoo. “People look forward to this time of year. It isn’t the holiday unless you make a visit to the Lights Before Christmas.”
This year promises to be as successful as previous years. On opening night, 1,844 people came to visit the Lights Before Christmas. A super busy night will bring in 15,000. The event began in 1986 with 71,000 total visitors. A record attendance for the annual tradition was in 2012 with 179,267 visitors.
Last year, the lights drew 163,711 people over 47 days, with 35 percent of visitors from Lucas County, Executive Director Jeff Sailer recently told Lucas County Commissioners during a presentation about the zoo.
Participants can wander the zoo, see the animals still on exhibit during the cold months and view the lights while drinking a hot chocolate or latte. The dancing light display near Cheetah Valley is sure to delight and carolers will sing on select nights (for a list of carolers visit the zoo’s website). Santa will make an appearance at the museum.
New this year is an ice slide near the amphitheater and live reindeer at Winter Village, located at the Broadway Pavilion.
The ice slide has three shoots and opens daily at 3 p.m. and closes with the zoo. Riders must be at least 42 inches tall. A three-ride pass is $5 and a seven-ride pass is $10. The passes are valid for other zoo rides until Jan. 4, the last day of the Lights Before Christmas.
Also at Winter Village is the marketplace, where people can buy glow items, stocking stuffers and treats and food and drink. They can also warm up cold fingers and toes at the firepit.
The Norway Spruce, aged 65-70 years, is taller than the tree in Rockerfeller Center and its trunk circumference is 8 feet, 7 inches. It weighs an estimated 7 tons — about as much as the combined weight of Renee and Louis, two of the zoo’s African elephants, according to the zoo’s website.
Each August, the zoo is broken down into areas. Each tree or shrub is marked with a piece of tape on what color to use and whether to wrap or drape, the two techniques for stringing lights. About four booms were used this year to reach the high places, said Curator of Horticulture Nancy Bucher.
Bucher has been with the zoo for 33 years and is the inspiration for many of the light designs for the past 15 years. She has been involved in the process since the beginning in the 1980s when they had only 50,000 lights. Every year, they added a thousand to reach today’s 1 million mark.
“Over the years as we were challenged to do more and more, we visited other zoos, and we’ve had a lot of people visit us, too,” Bucher said. “The dancing lights was a new idea. … You just look for new ideas.”
The day after the show closes, “we don’t wait,” Bucher said. The lights come down “because the “weather will never be good enough. It will be cold. It goes down a lot faster than it goes up.” The workers are finished taking them down by the middle of February.
Bucher’s favorite thing about the Lights Before Christmas is visitors’ comments, but she also has a special affinity for the clear lights.
“I love colored lights, too, but there’s something magical about a whole area filled with clear lights. It just makes it sparkle,” she said.
Admission is $13 for adults (ages 12-59), $10 for seniors (60-plus), $10 for children (ages 2-11) and free for children under 2. Group and military rates are available.
The hours of operation are 3-8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday with the zoo closing at 9 p.m., and 3-9 p.m. Friday and Saturday with the zoo closing at 10 p.m.
The Lights Before Christmas is closed Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.
For more information, visit www.toledozoo.org.