“It’s definitely geared toward families to come to the zoo during the winter months of the year to walk around the zoo, see the animals and check out all the zoo lights that we hang up,” said Fund Development Specialist Erin O’Rourke.
Most of the more than 100,000 lights are hung by two of the primary staff one month prior to the start of Wonderland of Lights. Volunteer Coordinator Kelly Gibson organizes high school and city volunteers to help replace bulbs, wrap trees and other maintenance needs.
Children used to participate in cookie decorating, but Potter Park Zoo found ways to keep children engaged with minimal physical contact after the pandemic.
This year, children can write letters to Santa, interact at the artifact station and bring home goody bags with a cookie, animal fact cards, candy canes and ornaments inside the Discovery Center.
“I’m excited we’re able to bring back … some of those inside activities,” Gibson said. “Also just to see faces light up when they walk through the zoo and see the lights or even the animals that may be out.”
Potter Park Zoo faculty take shifts as the general staff member on duty at night.
“We like to say at a small zoo you wear many hats, and so I am always available to help in any ways I can,” Development Associate Celaina Boylan-Castilla said. “This year, I’m hoping to get in more of the development role and have maybe a table setup or talk to people about what donations to the zoo actually help us with.”
Potter Park Zoo is looking forward to new community members taking part in Wonderland of Lights with new donors and the reintroduction of the education program, BIG Zoo Lesson.
Wonderland of Lights is an annual tradition for many local families.
“A lot of people that I’ve talked to they’ve been coming since kids and now they’re bringing their grandchildren,” O’Rourke said. “So, we’re talking generations of families that have attended Wonderland of Lights. It’s just really cool to see that. … I’m mostly excited to see those families return — it’s a lot of fun.”
Admission is $9 for adults and $5 for kids 3-12, seniors (60+), and military. Children under 3 are free.