Festival of Lights more popular than ever

Published 12:10 am Thursday, November 10, 2022

The last two years have produced the best of times, in terms of attendance and revenue, in three decades of the Tanglewood Festival of Lights.
Give credit to COVID in 2020, the first year of the global pandemic when restrictions on crowds gathering indoors for traditional holiday events led to a record turnout of vehicles driving through a safer place to see the annual lights show.
Then in 2021, it was another record-setting year, but instead of more vehicles, a cost increase helped establish a new standard with $1.3 million in revenue. That hiked the bottom line for the county to a net profit of $635,574, also a record high, when factoring in $675,351 in expenses.
Damon Sanders-Pratt, Forsyth County’s deputy county manager, said that the revenue yield was 45 percent higher last year than in 2020, which was the highest ever for any year.
“Part of that is that we increased the cost to attend,” Sanders-Pratt said after the first of the year numbers were calculated. “So that cost went up by more than the number of vehicles that went down. It was about 10 percent less attendance (57,925) compared to last year (64,057), but the previous year was the highest year ever of vehicles going to the event.”
Rates went up in 2021 to $20 for cash and $23 for credit/debit card per family vehicle after being unchanged for years at $15 for cars, vans and trucks. Rates for commercial vehicles went up to $45 cash and $48 credit/debit card (the previous rate was $35), and $115 cash and $118 credit/debit card for motorcoaches and buses (the previous rate was $100).
Sanders-Pratt admitted that raising the rates probably discouraged some people from coming.
Last year’s revenue number was also elevated by the reopening of the gift shop and the return of all the related special walking and running events that were also postponed in 2020 — along with good weather for the 30th anniversary of the event.
Now it’s time for the start of the 2022 Festival of Lights — opening Friday and running through Sunday, Jan. 1. The operating hours are 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. each night.
Prices remain the same as last year, and while COVID hasn’t gone away, the restrictions have continued to ease. And the constant is the dazzling million or so lights from start to finish and all the other activities associated with the holidays.
Andrew Wiles, event planner for Forsyth County Parks and Recreation, said that a new display showing an elf walking his dog has been added to around 200 displays along the five-mile route while others have been shuffled around to provide a unique look.
“One of the things we try to exhibit in the lights show is all there is to do at Tanglewood,” Wiles said. “So this means having displays that show fishing, golf, horses, RVs, dog walking, joggers and much more.”
Although traffic is always an issue — with an estimated quarter of a million visitors annually with the number rising to more than 300,000 the last couple of years — the new four-lane road added in 2020 to allow stacking more than 400 cars inside the park entrance at the bottom in the old steeplechase area has been a big help.
One of the officials in the Clemmons community policing division of the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office said that vehicles making it out of the park and onto Clemmons Road only happened about 10 times during the entire lights show in 2021.
Another improvement was the county adding more ticket booths in the gatehouse area and upgrading the internet speed where each credit card transaction was processed 10 seconds faster.
Festival organizers encourage those planning to attend in 2022 to consider choosing nights earlier in the week when there is typically less traffic than the popular weekend nights. The days just before Christmas also are especially busy.
An option to save money is the annual discount nights on the first two Monday and Tuesday nights before Thanksgiving (Nov. 14-15 and Nov. 21-22), which are $10 cash and $13 credit/debit card for family vehicles; $25 cash and $28 credit/debit card for commercial vehicles; and $80 cash and $83 credit/debit card for motorcoaches and buses.
In addition to the lights show, the Gift Village, which is anchored by the gift shop inside the Red Barn, features holiday crafts, wood workings, seasonal treats and other gifts made by local crafters. S’Moresville will continue marshmallow roasting at the site as well.
Other holiday experiences offered by Tanglewood stables include horse-drawn carriage rides and tractor-pulled hayrides through the route. Advance reservations are required by calling 336-766-9540 to check availability.
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.
For further information about any of these activities or other questions related to the Festival of Lights, go to www.forsyth.cc/Parks/Tanglewood/fol or call Tanglewood Park at 336-703-6400.