A night of illumination awaits you at the Racine Zoo Lantern Festival

A night of illumination awaits you at the Racine Zoo Lantern Festival

After months of preparation, the Racine Zoo and the Zigong Lantern Group have debuted the 2019 Chinese Lantern Festival on October 1st. Visitors are invited to take a stroll around the Racine Zoo, 2131 N. Main Street, and immerse yourself in the incredible works of art. From tigers, lions, pandas, exotic flora, and a colossal dragon, the Racine Zoo has been transformed into a world of illumination with custom-made lanterns. 

“We are excited to kick off and host the largest event in our 96-year history,” Beth Heidorn, Executive Director of the Racine Zoo, said. “What a wonderful opportunity for the Racine Zoo to be partnering with the leading lantern makers in the world.” 

A little over a year ago, the Zigong Lantern Group reached out to Beth Heidorn and the Racine Zoo. After successful experiences at Garlic Fest in California and in Texas, they choose Wisconsin as their next stop. The Racine Zoo was one of seven possible places in the state in which they had expressed interest. 

Heidorn and her staff welcomed them with open arms and gave them a tour of the Zoo. They were immediately impressed with the Zoo grounds and moved forward with plans to bring the Lantern Festival to southeastern Wisconsin. 

When the display was completed, Heidorn was very enthusiastic about the upcoming potential for this event.

“A 22-ton crane was brought in to help place our large lion lantern on the welcoming trellis,” she told Happenings Q&A in a recent interview. “With the two smaller lions next to it, it looked amazing! It was one of the last pieces we needed to take care of, and I was so excited to see it come together!”

Colorful and intricately-designed lanterns appear like pieces of artwork during the day, and come to life at night as they are illuminated for all to see.  There are 25 different elements which first greet visitors at the main Zoo entrance. The displays then continue through to the south end of the Zoo grounds. 

It takes over 50 tons of steel and 15,000 LED bulbs to create this special environment – featuring over 300 pieces of lantern art throughout the zoological grounds. 

The event will run a total of 80 nights through December 31st.  With the Lantern Festival running through December, Heidorn is ready for the long haul and possible rough weather conditions.

“That was one of my first concerns. But think of all the rain we had in the last few weeks – we had a ton. Most of the lanterns were already set up prior to the rain and they held up so well – it was a great testament to their durability – not one tear or rip.”

“As the temps inevitably drop this season, we will have warming stations set up for folks to take a break around a fire pit,” she said. “We will also have a wide array of food and drink options and bringing in entertainment and other fun activities.” 

Plenty of parking will be available for the large crowds they are expecting. Two parking lots in Downtown Racine as well as a lot near the Post Office at Douglas and Four Mile Road, with shuttles running every 20-30 minutes. If you aren’t afraid of a ten minute walk, use the parking lot at North Beach. 

“With some of our past events, we have been able to handle large crowds,” Heidorn said. “We are well prepared.”

The Zoo will be closing at 4:30 p.m. each day of the festival.  The festival will be held between 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. (last entry 9 p.m.) Sundays through Thursdays and 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays (last entry at 10 p.m.) 

Plan ahead! The festival will be closed on the following dates: October 28. November 4, 11, 18, 25, 28. December 2, 9, 16, 23, 24, 25.  With the final night of the festival falling on New Year’s Eve, you can expect some kind of big final blow-out – keep an eye on the website, RacineZoo.org, for more details.

Save by buying your tickets online! Tickets for adults 16 years and older are $20 online and $25 at the door. Senior tickets are $15 online and $20 at the door. Child tickets between the ages of three and 15 years are $12 online and $17 at the door. Children two years old and younger are free. Go to Racinezoo.org to buy tickets online.  

“There is a lot of great buzz, and I think this will be a great thing for our area. We look forward to seeing everyone enjoy this special event,” Heidorn told Happenings Q&A. “We really love to showcase what the Racine Zoo has to other audiences and expand our Zoo family!”

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By Jason Hedman
(The article first appeared in The Smart Reader, October 4th, 2019)