Rotary Gardens' Holiday Light Show returns, brighter than ever

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Jake Magee
Thursday, November 23, 2017

JANESVILLEAlan Mood spent Monday night wandering Rotary Botanical Gardens with a couple of bags of light bulbs strung across his chest, shoulder to hip.

His job was simple: replace any burned-out luminaries lining the garden paths. He repeatedly knelt and pulled bulbs from the half-gallon milk jugs they were set in to check them.

Some were merely loose and turned back on after he tightened them. Others had shattered or burned out and needed to be replaced. One even shocked him.

The work didn't bother Mood, who regularly volunteers at the gardens.

"It's a fun job," he said.

Mood's work represents just a fraction of the estimated 4,000 man hours it takes garden employees and volunteers to prepare for the annual Holiday Light Show, which opens Friday.

The show, which is entering its 22nd year, dazzles visitors with hundreds of thousands stringed light displays to wander by and weave through.

"There's the whole tie-in with the holidays, absolutely, but it's immersive, and that's the thing that's quite unique," said Mark Dwyer, horticultural manager at Rotary Gardens. "There's a lot of drive-through or drive-around shows, but to actually walk through something this size I think is quite amazing, and people remember it."

The work began in mid-August with one employee beginning to string some of the 425,000 lights that adorn the gardens for the show.

As opening night neared, more employees and volunteers helped out. One even used a bow and arrows to shoot strings of lights over tree branches, employees said.

This year's show has 25,000 more lights than last year. While no new displays have been added, the new LED lights will boost the existing displays, making them denser and brighter. The show also includes 600 dangling icicle lights—double last year's number—and 100 lighted archways, which is 25 more than last year, Dwyer said.

"The Japanese garden has more lights than ever," he said.

The show is open for 21 nights this year—four more nights than last year. The 2016 show drew 27,000 visitors from the southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois areas, said Executive Director Becky Kronberg.

"We like to aim high, so we're aiming for 30,000 visitors," she said.

The show also features concessions, selfie stations, Santa's house and an elf workshop, an antique sleigh, oversized chairs, and live entertainment, including visits from Santa himself on select evenings.

A free shuttle will take visitors between the gardens and Dawson Ball Fields.

"It's a family-friendly event, and it exposes the gardens to a wide range of the public at a time where people normally wouldn't think about going into a garden," Dwyer said.

"It's just a really nice opportunity to get people excited about the holidays," Kronberg added, "and it's really become a family event."

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