BY MIRANDA WHITWORTH Contributing writer
This year it's time to think pink for Holiday Lights at the California Living Museum. The popular annual event, which kicks off its 10th season Friday, will be a bit more colorful with the addition of pink and purple lights to its more than 2 million bulbs. And that's just one of the exciting new changes in store.
Steve Sanders, the Kern County Superintendent of Schools chief of staff and CALM Foundation board member, said this year's additions offer a visually dynamic boost to the existing installations.
Holiday Lights at CALM
When: 5:30 to 9 p.m. Nov. 30 to Dec. 31 (closed Christmas Day)
Where: California Living Museum, 10500 Alfred Harrell Highway
Admission: $12; $10, seniors and children 13-17; $6, children 3-12. Tickets, vallitix.com or 322-5200.
"A lot of our displays are just silhouettes with unlit centers. Now they are being filled in with lights and the displays seem bigger, they stand out more and it gives a really dramatic effect."
The brighter displays are all a part of an ongoing improvement project that's replacing thousands of old bulbs with new, energy-efficient LED lights. This isn't the first season the change-outs have taken place, but it will be the first season visitors will be seeing a new part of the color spectrum as pink and purple LED lights are making their way into the collection at CALM.
Brighter displays and new colors aren't the only updates for the Holiday Lights 10th anniversary. Sanders says several new displays have been installed and their theme is fitting for the backdrop that is the zoo.
"One of the new displays is a crab wreath at the pond area. The crabs sit over the water, so it fits. We also have some swinging monkeys on a vine and an area in the center with lamp posts made out of lights that the public will love. We have more new stuff, but I don't want to give it all away."
After 10 seasons, Holiday Lights has developed some great traditions and along with the new, the old is being happily embraced. Apple dumplings, hot cocoa and kettle corn provided by Teen Challenge will be back again this year for purchase on the grounds, allowing guests to nosh under the lights. The Candy Cane Express will also be up and running, offering train rides around CALM's grounds and through the displays.
Holiday Lights is CALM's biggest fundraiser of the year and 2011 was a record-setting season for the zoo with 51,000 guests, Sanders said.
"Last year we raised over $200,000 and a lot of that went to our new desert bighorn sheep exhibit."
Sanders credit that record fundraising not only to the thousands of guests but also the countless folks working behind the scenes.
"None of this would be possible without volunteers. We have people helping guide tours through the park, we have people in the parking lot helping Teen Challenge manage parking. Cash donations from sponsors and in-kind donations like diesel to help keep everything running all makes this possible."
For Sanders, it's an important event for CALM's operations but it's also an important event for the people of Kern County who have built family traditions among the glittering lights.
"Whether you are a 1-year-old seeing the lights for the first time or are in college coming back and reliving your childhood memories, the lights are an amazing thing to see. And it's great as a volunteer to see all of the families coming out every year and bringing their friends who maybe haven't experienced it before."