Wednesday, Nov 27 2013 03:54 PM

CALM zoo ready to light up the night

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Grayson Shepherd, left, and his buddy, Austin Wiegel, share an umbrella in the rain during the Holiday Lights at CALM in 2010.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    A reflection of the Jack in the Box is seen in the creek that runs through CALM at the 2011 event.

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BY STEFANI DIAS Californian staff writer sdias@bakersfield.com

For those not rushing off to score Black Friday deals, now is the time to plan some holiday family fun. Likely near the top of your list is Holiday Lights at California Living Museum, which returns today for its 11th year.

The presentation of more than 2 million lights, designed by Josh Barnett's Lightasmic!, has evolved this year with new displays, including a hands-on attraction for children.

Related Info

Holiday Lights at CALM

When: 5:30 to 9 p.m. daily through Dec. 31 (closed Dec. 25)

Where: CALM, 10500 Alfred Harrell Highway.

Admission: $12; $10 seniors and children ages 13-17; $6 ages 3-12. Tickets at vallitix.com or 322-5200, 872-2256 or at the gate at CALM.

Information: 872-2256 or calmzoo.org

What to expect

Many residents have already made Holiday Lights a tradition, but for those new to the event, some highlights:

Let's save: Tickets are discounted by $2 each when visiting Monday through Thursday from now until Dec. 19.

Let's ride: The Candy Cane Express offers free train rides through an illuminated path, and the carousel takes guests for a spin.

Let's eat: Event partner Teen Challenge runs a concession booth with hamburgers, hot dogs, warm beverages (hot chocolate, coffee, apple cider) and its famed apple and peach dumplings. Guests also may bring their own picnic meal to enjoy at the zoo.

Let's help: Volunteers are still needed for the park and parking lot (especially on weekends). As a perk, volunteers working a full night will receive free admission to the event. Call Lana Fain at 872-2256 for more information.

Let's return: Departing guests receive a coupon for a CALM day pass, which can be redeemed until March 31, 2014.

"We have an interactive display," said Steve Sanders, Kern County Superintendent of Schools chief of staff and CALM Foundation board member. "It's a big elephant broken up in eight sections. They get to choose what color each section is.

"We always try to add new displays and new LED lights that will make the park even brighter. (This year), there is a new lighthouse. We have a pond at CALM, and it's in that area. And a new Statue of Liberty display that will be out by the train."

Along with upgrading the lights to LED, the crew has been working to enhance older displays.

"They've also been filling in lights, to fill in the body of it. (For example) we've always had a big whale, and now he's filled in and it stands out that much more."

Sanders said Holiday Lights, which runs through Dec. 31, draws a growing mix of new and repeat visitors each year.

"It has become a family tradition. It's exciting to see. I think they're bringing new friends and family. More and more, we're seeing people from out of Bakersfield who have heard of it.

"We had just under 58,000 people last year, which was a record. We continue to grow every year. It would be nice (this year) to hit that 60,000 people mark."

Last year's event netted $250,000 for CALM, also up from the previous year. Sanders said funds have allowed the zoo to finish work on its desert bighorn sheep and shorebirds exhibits, and to retrofit an exhibit for a beaver partnership with the San Diego Zoo.

Some funds are also earmarked for new developments at CALM.

"We're actually doing some upgrades, adding wireless, so the park will be wireless for visitors. We're in the middle of a new project to build new informational signs.

"The other exciting thing we're looking at is a challenge course and zip line. We're planning, in the design stages. We're looking at a low course and high course -- something kids can do and one for adults and teens for team building ... for companies, for sports teams and church groups."

Sanders said the main considerations are location and cost. Once those are finalized, the additions could be open by the middle of next year.

"Our goal is to open something next spring or summer. We started to work with a company. The construction on those is pretty quick."

With new plans and old favorites, Sanders said he's looking forward to kicking off another Holiday Lights season.

"My favorite part is seeing that it has become a family event. Watching multiple generations either seeing it for the first time or returning for another trip and just seeing the smiles and laughter."

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