Smithsonian National Zoo Prepares for ZooLights

By Alexis Tainter

Sam Skaggs, Alexis Tainter and Jake Chiarelli contributed to this story. 

Holiday season is approaching and the Smithsonian National Zoo is preparing for their annual ZooLights. The lights run along Screen Shot 2014-11-07 at 4.16.56 PMOlmstead Walk, the zoo’s main pathway, and will cover approximately 102 trees and include 30 to 40 free standing animal structures, including an elephant and a wolf. The event lasts from Nov. 28, the day after Thanksgiving, to Jan. 1.

“We usually get pretty good crowds especially since the event became free,” Eric Nance, who is actively involved in the decoration process, said.

In years past, the event cost $3, however, admission for ZooLights is now free. To see some of the decorations in place, click here. The decorating crew has been lining the trees with lights since Oct. 13. While this is the only holiday activity the zoo participates in, they believe they make up for it with how much they put into this single event.

“I like as far as holiday wise, sort of displays we have for the trees and I think we put a lot of effort and dedication into it, not that other zoos don’t, but I think ours is one of the better holiday displays I’ve seen,” Nance said.

While some zoo’s exhibits are closed throughout the showing of lights, the Smithsonian National Zoo Park has several exhibits that remain open, including the Small Mammal house and the Great Ape House. For an interactive map of the Smithsonian Zoo, click here.

“I like how the kids can still see some of the animals while they look at the lights,” Kathleen Furay said. “My two boys love it here. They love seeing the whole zoo lit up. The lights are fun.”

While the ZooLights prove to be a popular place to visit, attracting over 100,000 people throughout the season, some visitors are unhappy with how crowded and busy the zoo gets.

“It’s not my favorite time to go because it’s way, way, way too crowded,” Brian Stolz, who visits the zoo regularly with his family, said. “I would like them if it wasn’t as busy. It’s neat to see the lights go but I come here for the animals, not necessary to see the lights so when it’s that busy it’s hard. But my daughter likes it so we still go.”

While the lights will not be on for the public for almost another three weeks, the workers are excited to see the outcome of the set up and are anxious for that day to come.

“[My favorite thing] is that there’s a day right before the event opens where we sort of turn everything on and make sure it’s what we want and we kind of go through the zoo and get to see it and kind of see the final product of the month’s work,” Nance said.

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For more information on ZooLights, click here, and for the St. Louis Zoo’s Wild Lights, click here.