Walking in a Winter Wonderland

NC Arboretum’s ‘Winter Lights’ — even bigger, brighter this year.

It’s hard to imagine that The North Carolina Arboretum could top last year’s beautiful Winter Lights nighttime holiday exhibition, but this year’s display is even bigger and brighter. Now in its third year, Winter Lights designers increased the number of energy-efficient LEDs to nearly 500,000 lights, added new displays and greatly expanded areas of the garden displays. Open nightly from 6 – 10 p.m., now through Jan. 1, 2017, Winter Lights is a family-friendly experience, quickly becoming a holiday tradition in the Asheville area.

The big display is an easy stroll for visitors of all ages — and is designed to accentuate the landscapes of the NC Arboretum.

“In its first two years, the Arboretum’s Winter Lights quickly became one of the Southeast’s premier holiday attractions,” said George Briggs, executive director of The North Carolina Arboretum. “We are excited about the changes and additions for year three. In addition to the light displays and programs, our exhibit is a great way to educate visitors about energy efficiency and the Southern Appalachian region. It is an Asheville holiday tradition not to be missed.”

A beautiful sight
Winter Lights visitors will see twinkling topiaries, a rock candy cottage, a ‘dream quilt’ moving to music and a shimmering stream of calla lily-like colorful lights.

Guests flock to the elevated rock staircase overlooking the lighted Quilt Garden and 50-foot animated tree, both of which twinkle and illuminate to holiday music.

Returning this year is the Rocky Cove Railroad G-scale (garden scale) model train in the area below the large animated tree and a holiday craft making station for children and families in the education center.

Visitors will enjoy the greatly expanded chandelier displays in ‘Nature’s Ballroom,’ and see a tableau of a fancifully painted piano, candelabra and hanging crystal balls in the garden.

Stroll through a snowflake-themed lighted winter walk on the way to the education center. And stop at the plaza to admire the ‘cascading’ falls of lights and the unusual display of lighted plastic water bottles, which look like jewels from a distance.

New this year are a lighting projection show, “Plantasia,” in the bonsai area, and an indoor family-friendly animatronics performance, “Storytime at Woodland Cove.” Told through the adventures of animated animal characters — Mama Bear, Young Bear and Bucky the Deer, the animated story educates visitors young and old about winter hibernation for animals in the Southern Appalachians.

“This year’s event is literally ‘bigger’ and ‘brighter,’ as we’ve added about 150,000 more lights to the show,” said Whitney Smith, marketing and public relations manager. “Plus, with the addition of the Plantasia projected light show and Storytime at Woodland Coveanimatronic program, there’s something for everyone this year, no matter what age.”

More food for thought
Food and beverages, including hot cocoa, cider, wine and beer, are available for purchase, and the Arboretum’s Savory Thyme Café offers a dinner buffet on weekends for Winter Lights ticketholders (reservations required).

The Arboretum is hosting two-weekday specials during Winter Lights. Tuesdays are “Friends and Family” night, in which attendees receive a discounted flat rate of $15 per ticket.

“And all Thursday night Winter Lights ticketholders will receive a complimentary cup of hot chocolate as part of the arboretum’s ‘Crazy for Cocoa’ Thursday night special,” Smith said.

A new feature this year is the availability of transportation from downtown Asheville or Hendersonville.

“The Trolley Company is offering a special Winter Lights Holiday Tour from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Guests will be picked up at either the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Asheville or downtown Hendersonville’s Visitor Center and transported on a holly, jolly ride to the arboretum, where they will receive an entry into Winter Lights and a complimentary cup of hot chocolate,” Smith said.

Mindful of the environment
Given the wildfire situation in Western North Carolina, the Arboretum is asking for Winter Lights ticket-holders to consider swapping out their s’mores purchases to buy supplies for area firefighters, instead.

“We are thankful for the hundreds of local, regional and national firefighters and emergency responders who are currently fighting wildfires across Western North Carolina,” Smith said. “To help reduce the fire threat, the arboretum will abide by the N.C. Forest Service’s regional burn ban. As a result, the Winter Lights fire pits will not be operating until further notice.”

Helping the NC Arboretum grow
Winter Lights is a fundraiser that will help the NC Arboretum continue to expand its educational programs, exhibits and facilities year-round Smith said.

Winter Lights tickets may be purchased at www.ncwinterlights.com. All tickets must be purchased in advance and are date-specific. Tickets will not be sold at the gate.

Tickets are $18 for adults and $16 for children (ages 5 to 11), plus handling fees and tax. Children age four and under are free. Group tickets are available ($15 per person, minimum 20 people). Members of The North Carolina Arboretum Society receive a $2 discount on each ticket purchased.

Follow the NC Arboretum on Facebook and Twitter for event updates. Call the arboretum at 828-665-2492.

Tickets for The Trolley Company’s Winter Lights Holiday Tour are $27 per person and must be purchased in advance through www.thetrolleycompany.com.

The North Carolina Arboretum is off the Blue Ridge Parkway at Milepost 393. From I-26, take Exit 33, and follow Blue Ridge Parkway signs for two miles to the entrance ramp. Visit www.ncarboretum.org for daytime parking fees and hours of operation.

By Carol Viau