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Lights to remember: Toledo Zoo builds on its annual Christmas illumination

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    Light decorations for the Lights Before Christmas at the Toledo Zoo in Toledo on Tuesday, November 14.

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    Light decorations for the Lights Before Christmas at the Toledo Zoo in Toledo on Tuesday, November 14.

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    Polar bear statues in front of light decorations for the Lights Before Christmas at the Toledo Zoo in Toledo on Tuesday, November 14.

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    Kangaroo light decorations for the Lights Before Christmas at the Toledo Zoo in Toledo on Tuesday, November 14.

    The Blade/Kurt Steiss
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    A bird statue in front of light decorations for the Lights Before Christmas at the Toledo Zoo in Toledo on Tuesday, November 14.

    The Blade/Kurt Steiss
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    Light decorations for the Lights Before Christmas at the Toledo Zoo in Toledo on Tuesday, November 14.

    The Blade/Kurt Steiss
    Buy This Image

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    Penguin light decorations for the Lights Before Christmas at the Toledo Zoo in Toledo on Tuesday, November 14.

    The Blade/Kurt Steiss
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    Light decorations for the Lights Before Christmas at the Toledo Zoo in Toledo on Tuesday, November 14.

    The Blade/Kurt Steiss
    Buy This Image

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    A vulture light decoration for the Lights Before Christmas at the Toledo Zoo in Toledo on Tuesday, November 14.

    The Blade/Kurt Steiss
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    Light decorations for the Lights Before Christmas at the Toledo Zoo in Toledo on Tuesday, November 14.

    The Blade/Kurt Steiss
    Buy This Image

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    A turtle light decoration for the Lights Before Christmas at the Toledo Zoo in Toledo on Tuesday, November 14.

    The Blade/Kurt Steiss
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    Light decorations for the Lights Before Christmas at the Toledo Zoo in Toledo on Tuesday, November 14.

    The Blade/Kurt Steiss
    Buy This Image

  • FEA-LIGHTS16-32

    Light decorations for the Lights Before Christmas at the Toledo Zoo in Toledo on Tuesday, November 14.

    The Blade/Kurt Steiss
    Buy This Image

They say the North Star is the brightest in the constellation Ursa Minor. Yet, this weekend’s lights at the Toledo Zoo might give even Polaris a run for its money.

All right, maybe not quite as bright. But some people in Toledo might be following the glow of lights originating from the Toledo Zoo instead of the North Star to guide them “home.”

For more than three decades, people in northwest Ohio and across the country have made the trip to see the Toledo Zoo’s Lights Before Christmas, which begins Friday.

“It’s not just the lights; it’s the zoo in itself,” said Shayla Moriarty, director of communications for the Toledo Zoo. “It’s a Toledo gem. You’re seeing families bring their kids and grandkids. It’s a great holiday tradition.”

About 1 million bulbs of vibrant colors will bring a blend of both old and new attractions this year for the annual Lights Before Christmas display. It’s such a large amount of lights that if they were strung from one end to another they would stretch about 100 miles in length, or from Toledo to Fort Wayne, Ind.

VIDEO: Lights Before Christmas

By The Numbers

•There are more than 1 million lights at this year’s event.

•If all the lights were strung from one end to another, they would measure about 100 miles in length. That’s equivalent to a drive from Toledo to Fort Wayne, Ind.

•54,000 feet of extension cords are used for the lights, the equivalent of 10 miles.

•The zoo’s signature 85-foot Norway spruce tree is decorated with 35,000 LED lights.

•Scenes Of Wonder, new this year, includes a 3-D holiday scene set to music and projected on the side of the Carnivore Cafe. It will play a four-minute holiday story.

This year the zoo is again nominated in USA Today’s 10Best Readers’ Choice travel award contest as a contender for Best Zoo Lights. The zoo was named No. 1 Best Zoo Lights last year, and this year’s contest ends Dec. 4.

“We’re grateful for the support in Toledo and the suburbs,” Moriarty said. “They’ve really turned out for this family tradition every single year.”

The Lights Before Christmas started with about 71,000 people at its first event in 1986. Last year, the display drew 167,354 guests.

More than 200 illuminated animal images will fill the zoo, including the Winter Village with an ice slide, rubber inner-tubes, and bumper cars on ice in the venue’s amphitheater.

Moriarty said Santa Claus has moved to the Arctic Encounter where guests can take photos with the man in the red suit, or watch St. Nick scuba dive in the zoo’s 90,000-gallon Pacific Reef Tank daily at 3:15 p.m. and 4:15 p.m.

That’s not to mention the Lights Before Christmas’ six-week kickoff with the lighting of the “Big Tree,” an 85-foot Norway spruce decorated in 35,000 LED bulbs between 5:30 and 6:15 p.m Friday.

This year it took 15 seasonal and full-time workers splitting up shifts to string the more than 1 million lights, contributing to 15-hour days. But how does each worker know where to specifically place each light?

Rick Payeff, director of facilities and planning for the Toledo Zoo, said there is a script, or, rather, a guide, detailing every single light’s location, all checked through inventories. The lights are always taken down immediately after the display ends each year because of maintenance needs and weathering prevention.

“Things are always changing,” he said. “We don’t want to do the same thing every year.”

One of the biggest and newest displays at this year’s event is the Scenes of Wonder, a 3-D holiday scene set to music and projected onto the side of the Carnivore Cafe, which will play a four-minute holiday story. It will be the same area where zoo-goers can see more than 70,000 LED lights illuminating the dancing light display.

How are more than a million lights wired? With the help of 54,000 feet, or 10 miles, of extension cords.

Also new this year is the Beer Garden located near the Beastro, where visitors 21 and older can enjoy a cold brew while gazing at the lights display.

“It will be very unique for people this year,” Payeff said.

Hours are 3-8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 3-9 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Admission for non-members is $17 for adults and $14 for children ages 2 to 11 and seniors. The display will be open through Dec. 31 and closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas, and New Year’s days. Those who purchase tickets online will save $1.

For more information, visit toledozoo.org/lights.

Contact Geoff Burns at gburns@theblade.com or 419-724-6054.

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