INNISFAIL – At the entrance to Discovery Wildlife Park, it was dark and eerily quiet as a young and polite attendant named Rogan greeted a visitor.
He pointed the car forward on the service road leading to the park’s main building. There were long streams of lights on both sides of the road leading into the 90-acre zoo.
The closer one drove to the main building, a feeling of wonder grew. There were flashing blue lights on a dozen trees in front.
All around the main building and stretching out as far as one could see were hundreds of thousands of lights glowing spectacularly in all directions of the park.
This is the new winter wonderland created by park co-owner Doug Bos and his committed staff; a project he first envisioned more than a year ago and now called Light the Night.
“We did our final touches today,” said Bos on Nov. 18 during a special media viewing.
Light the Night was meticulously designed as a Central Alberta winter and holiday season destination, where awestruck locals and out-of-town visitors can put their imaginations in overdrive by navigating the two-kilometre route of magic and wonder that boasts at least half a million individual lights.
When visitors have completed the 45-minute magical tour, they can head to the main building where the Grinch is waiting on the decks amidst thousands of additional dazzling lights.
The public got its first look in the evening of Nov. 19. Light the Night is continuing seven days a week from 5 to 9 p.m. until Jan. 18.
The cost is $30 for a carload of up to eight. For a larger vehicle that can hold between nine and 15 people, the cost will be $50, and for even larger vehicles that carry 16 or more visitors, the admission fee will be $100.
If visitors want to get an aerial view, there are tethered balloon rides available that will rise 100 feet for an even more spectacular view.
As for the animals that are still in their winter-time outdoor areas, like the camels, lions, deer and wolves, they are doing just fine with the light show all around them.
“They don’t care. We’ve been testing and habituating them for the last month. In the summertime its light until 11 o’clock,” said Bos.
He said the zoo has invested more than $100,000 into the project, which includes more than 25 kilometres of strings of lights and colourful, unique light displays he stored away until Oct. 1 when he and a team of 10 staff members and volunteers worked every day for more than six weeks to create Alberta’s new winter wonderland of light.
Bos figures his investment will pay off, not only for his zoo, but for the entire business community of Innisfail.
He told the Albertan earlier this year he’s expecting at least 10,000 vehicles with up to 30,000 people in the next two months; many of them from out-of-town who will stay in Innisfail after their visit to Light the Night to check out other businesses.
Boss is expecting to do better than just “breaking even”, adding the weather will be a big factor, with new fresh fallen snow being even more visually appealing for many winter-loving visitors.
“We might lose some days to bad weather where people can't travel on the highways because they're closed,” said Bos. “But if it is like last night, and the night before, when it was minus 20 out there with howling wind, you're still in the comfort of your car and you don't notice all that; opposed to some of the other light displays that are walk-around. All you must do is get cold weather and wind and nobody will show up.”
With his new venture just beginning its first season, Bos is not only unconcerned about weather or the usual start-up hiccups, he is already looking ahead to when he believes Light the Night will become a province-wide must-see winter-time attraction.
“It will be bigger and better next year. There are hundreds of trees out there that can be decorated. We are going to have more light displays. We are just planning to grow it more and more every year,” said Bos, who is also not worried one bit about his upcoming power bills. “It is not a big thing. They are all LED lights.”