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Zoolights Delights for 35 Years

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Ghosts, goblins, and gourds – you can find all of that at the Zoo’s annual Halloween event, Zoo Boo. But something else festive is brewing on Zoo grounds.

“Zoolights set-up is already underway,” said Facilities Manager Scott Clarke.

The holiday tradition has dazzled the South Sound community for 35 years, and this year will be no exception.

For the Zoolights crew, the first day of fall signals go-time. The team spends every autumn day prepping for the region’s classic holiday lights extravaganza, rain or shine.

man strings christmas lights in bushes
Zoolights preparations begin in October

“It’s a huge team effort, and we take a lot of pride in keeping this well-loved holiday tradition alive year after year,” said Clarke. “We are delighted to welcome our community back to the Zoo yearly for this longstanding event.”

Clarke has worked on Zoolights since 1989, as long as the iconic purple and green Flame Tree has been around. Over the years, he has seen generations of Puget Sound families and couples pose in front of the tree for holiday snapshots. 

Dozens of longtime favorites, like the Flame Tree, will be back for encores this year. Clarke already has  mapped out where his team will place each of the classic figurines. Guests can expect to see the polar bear family standing majestically atop ice floes in a dazzling turquoise blue sea, Mount Rainier rising tall, and the Seahawks Tree, featuring bright greens and blues in team colors and a brilliant white number 12 for the 12th Man. The most prominent and most challenging display, the 100-foot-wide giant Pacific octopus, will once again shine brightly atop the old North Pacific Aquarium.zoolights octopus on roof

But there’s always room to make new traditions as well! New in 2022: adorable swimming sea otters. While the Zoo’s living inhabitants are bedded down each night, their counterparts in lights have a blast. The sea otters will join the Zoolights magic to bring smiles to guests’ faces, just like the swinging Siamang, leaping tigers, and swooping eagles.

Nearly every display at Zoolights is built in-house by the Zoo’s talented carpenters, electricians, and maintenance staff.

“We focus on making beautiful displays that will last for years and can hold up in winter weather,” said Clarke. “We’ve had years with windstorms, rainstorms, and even snowstorms, but we work hard always to keep the lights shining.”

In addition to two Instagrammable tunnels of lights, guests can pose in front of lit-up butterfly wings. 

By mid-November, most of the hard work of set-up will be done for the Zoolights crew, aside from a few last-minute touches. But their work doesn’t end once Zoolights begins.

“We constantly monitor all the lights and ensure they are all working correctly,” said Clarke. “And after Zoolights ends, we work until every last light is put carefully away. That can take up to an entire month!”

Is all the hard work worth it?

“Definitely!” says Clarke. “Our whole crew agrees that seeing the Zoo transformed into a winter wonderland makes it all worth it. We love seeing families and friends enjoy the magic of Zoolights.  It never gets old.”

Zoolights By-the-Numbers

One day: Time to assemble the Narrows Bridges

5 feet: Wingspan of the LED swooping eagles

Six people: To lift the roaring tiger’s head

34 years: Age of the Flame Tree

35 years: Years that Zoolights has been around

100 feet: The width of the giant Pacific octopus

24,000 lights: On the LED octopus

30,030 lights: On the Flame Tree

Over 800,000 lights: Total number for Zoolights 2022

Zoolights is open Nov. 25 through Jan. 2. Hours are 4:30 pm – 10 pm nightly, except for a two-night closure on Dec. 24 and Dec. 25. For more information on the region’s longest-running and most-loved holiday light extravaganza, click here. Zoolights is presented by BECU.