New four-lane road paves way for drive-through Festival of Lights

Published 12:10 am Thursday, November 12, 2020

No Santa, Gift Village or S’moresville this year due to pandemic

By Jim Buice
For the Clemmons Courier

Last year’s Tanglewood Festival of Lights was one of the most successful on record with 309,000 people in attendance, according to Brandi Chappell, marketing and events director for the Forsyth County Parks and Recreation Department.

The 2020 lights show could be bigger than ever because of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and restrictions on crowds gathering in venues for holiday events. Chappell said that the average attendance for the Festival of Lights, which opens Friday night for its 29th season, typically ranges between 250,000 and 300,000.

However, local officials are preparing for more vehicles streaming into Tanglewood Park for this year’s event after several meetings being held in advance to review best practices to handle the traffic.

Clemmons Mayor John Wait mentioned the need “to get traffic off the road even more on a year when there’s going to be more traffic than normal. At least that’s what we anticipate.”

Lee Rollins, the town manager of Bermuda Run, said he wanted to give kudos to NCDOT for taking the initiative to put together Zoom meetings with the Highway Patrol, Forsyth County Sheriff’s Department and Davie County Sheriff’s Department to all work together to be better “at controlling, as best you can, traffic congestion.”

Rollins added, ”And DOT to their credit with the I-40 widening and other things I think they were super sensitive to that, and then also to the fact that with the COVID effect we think for Festival of Lights, will actually increase traffic.”

Perhaps most important for the 2020 Festival of Lights — and also going forward — is the addition of a road-widening project just inside the Tanglewood Park’s entrance.

Northtrail Road, which is at the first intersection inside the park before the entrance booth, has been widened from two lanes to four lanes when you make a right turn (if you turn left on Northtrail, that will take you to the dog park and campground). That will allow more vehicles to line up inside the park rather than backing up on U.S. 158, Harper Road and other connecting roads.

Forsyth County commissioners approved a paving project earlier this year at an estimated $1 million for the road, which goes down the hill after turning right and circles around the old steeplechase area — adding an estimated capacity of more than 440 vehicles inside the park.

The annual Festival of Lights features around 200 displays and will continue the tradition of adding a few more in 2020 along the five-mile route with a million or so lights.

The popularity of the lights show has created traffic that sometimes backs up on to the off-ramps on I-40 during peak weekends. That has an impact on local businesses in the area and residents who live in close proximity of Tanglewood. In recent years, Clemmons has implemented a placard system where residents in Asbury Place, Old Meadowbrook, Tanglewood Farms and Westridge can place color-coded placards, which are available at Village Hall, in the windshields of their vehicles to gain easier access to their neighborhoods.

This year’s Festival of Lights starts tomorrow (Friday) and runs through Jan. 1. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, this year will strictly be a drive-through event with the Gift Village and S’moresville being closed. Santa will also not be on site this year. However, porta-johns will be available along the way.

Also, all special events related to the Festival of Lights have been canceled this year because of the restrictions related to the novel virus, including the Totally Outstanding Awesome Stroll (TOAST) — which was scheduled for Sunday, Nov. 8.

The operating hours are nightly from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. Rates are unchanged from last year. Family rates are $15 for cars, vans and trucks; commercial rates for vans, limos and mini-buses are $35; and rates for motor coaches and buses are $100. Discount rates on Monday and Tuesday nights next week (Nov. 16-17) and Monday and Tuesday before Thanksgiving (Nov. 23-24), are $5 for family vehicles; $15 for commercial vehicles; and $65 for motorcoaches and buses.

Horse-drawn carriage rides and tractor-pulled hayrides are available by reservation only by calling the Tanglewood stables at 336-766-9540.

Due to safety concerns, riding through the Festival of Lights in the back of a pick-up truck or in/on a trailer that is connected to a vehicle is prohibited.

After this year’s event, Chappell said that next year will be “the Big 3-0” as the Festival of Lights celebrates its 30th anniversary — with the coronavirus pandemic hopefully in the rear-view window.