Bigger light show is good to glow

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Dennis Hines | December 6, 2016

JANESVILLE — Looking for a way to literally brighten up your holiday season? Look no further than Rotary Botanical Gardens, where this year's Holiday Light Show features an additional 50,000 lights, bringing the total to more than 400,000 glowing bulbs.

The spectacle will be open 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Dec. 9 through Dec. 11, Dec. 15 through Dec. 23 and Dec. 26 through Dec. 30.

“We beefed up the show in terms of the number of lights that are out there,” said Mark Dwyer, director of horticulture.

The show includes 100 decorated trees, 2,500 luminaries and 600 icicle lights.

New attractions include a Christmas tree in the English Cottage and a 20-foot tower of lights in the middle of the pond.

“Every year, the show has gotten better, and this year is no exception,” Dwyer said. “Last year, we doubled the route. Two years ago, we added the Japanese Garden. Now we just bulked everything up.

“The last three years, the growth has just been dramatic.”

Becky Kronberg, Rotary Botanical Gardens executive director, said the different sections of the gardens will be decorated with holiday lights.

“The Japanese Garden is my favorite section,” Kronberg said. “It's just so bright and colorful. It's beautiful because it's so bright. It's a neat spot.”

Besides the lights, the show will feature Polar Pit Stop concession stands, animated displays, selfie stops and miniature Santa houses.

“We encourage people to take family photos in the different selfie spots. There's a contest where they can submit their photos on our Facebook page and be eligible for  prizes,” Dwyer said. “The kids just love (the Santa houses). Santa and Mrs. Claus are in one, and an elf workshop is (in another one). They're all decorated and look pretty cool.”

Three-dimensional glasses will be available to give people a closer look at some of the displays.

“We tried them out,” Kronberg said. “They're pretty neat.”

There will be several activities going on inside the Cottage Garden Gallery, including live music, snacks and shopping opportunities.

Visitors are invited to deck themselves out for the season on themed nights, including Holiday Sweater Night on Dec. 9, Pajama Night on Dec. 16 and Wacky Winter Hat Night on Dec. 23.

Santa Claus will visit Dec. 16 through Dec. 18 and Dec. 20 through Dec. 23, and live reindeer will be featured Dec. 19 and Dec. 20.

“Live reindeer and the Santa visits are really popular,” Kronberg said. “We expect large crowds on those nights.”

Rotary Botanical Gardens has hosted the Holiday Light Show for about 20 years. Attendance has been climbing the past few years, including a record crowd of 35,600 during the 2015 run, Dwyer said.

 Garden officials are hoping to set a new record this year.

“We're planning for it,” Dwyer said. “Last year, we had over 35,000 people. We had great weather. ... (T)he show has gained momentum with more people being aware of it, and they're driving from a wider radius. We get a lot of people from northern Illinois, Milwaukee, north of Madison and beyond.”

The show gives people an opportunity to view colorful decorations and get into the holiday spirit, Dwyer said.

“It's unique in that it's a walk-through. In a botanical garden setting, it lends itself to a great immersive experience,” he said. “It's not a drive-thru light show where you look out the car windows. You literally have to walk through. There's displays, under-arches and icicle lights, so it's a very family, intimate event.

“When people come to town for the holidays, this is where they come.”

Shuttle bus transportation will be available to the gardens from Dawson Field, 920 Beloit Ave., each day of the show.

“Instead of dealing with the parking (at the gardens), Dawson Field has File photo by Dan Plutchak/staff

The Holiday Light Show at Rotary Botanical Gardens gets bigger and brighter each year. This year's show, which opens Dec. 9, is expected to draw more than 35,000 people during its 17-day run.every night of the show, which is a great alternative than finding parking on Palmer Drive or in our little 100-car lot here at the gardens.”

The show could be canceled if the weather is bad enough.

“We'll cancel it for a terrible ice storm and if there's a lot of snow,” Dwyer said. “There's a danger issue, and if we can't keep a bulk of the lights on, it's not fair to ask people to pay for this.”

Dwyer said he and his crew, as well as volunteers, begin setting up the light show in late August.

 “It was a solid 10 to 11 weeks to set up. It's just not getting the lights up and running cords,” he said. “We're in the process of testing the show, making sure everything is running good and we have full power.”

Dwyer continued, “The facilitation of the show over the next month is the easy part, but it's important to note that when the event is over with on Dec. 30, on Jan. 2, we start taking the show down. It will be three solid months of take-down.

“If we have a nasty winter, take-down may last until April. We've had flowers in bloom, and we're still taking stakes out of the ground that were frozen in.”

The Holiday Light Show encourages people to visit the gardens during the spring and summer, Dwyer said.

“We're amazed at how many people will come to the gardens for the light show and it's their first time to the gardens,” he said. “They make the comment, 'I bet this is nice during the summer.'

“To that effect, we're going to display some photos of the gardens to show what it looks like during the growing season to encourage visitors to come back.”

The cost to attend the Holiday Light Show is $5. Tickets can be purchased at Rotary Botanical Gardens, Festival Foods and Blackhawk Community Credit Union. Tickets also are available at the door and by going to

“Purchasing tickets online is encouraged because they can have their confirmation done on the phone and avoid the long lines,” Kronberg said. “It should help the lines move faster.”




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