Festival of Lights levels off since days of COVID: Popular holiday lights show still bringing in over 50K vehicles annually to Tanglewood Park

Published 12:10 am Thursday, January 25, 2024

By Jim Buice

For the Clemmons Courier

CLEMMONS — After surging to record highs for the number of vehicles entering Tanglewood Park during the peak of COVID, the Festival of Lights remains a popular attraction despite a slight drop in attendance in the last two seasons.

In fact, after an all-time record vehicle count of 64,057 in 2020, followed by 57,925 in 2021, the last two years came in at 52,161 vehicles in 2022 and 52,054 in the most recent year of 2023.

“Overall, it was another great year,” said Chris Weavil, the director of Forsyth County Parks & Recreation. “We are leveling off in our number of attendees/vehicles post-COVID.”

Revenue figures were not yet available for last year’s show, but the financials have also been on the rise since the 2021 holiday lights show. However, instead of more vehicles, that year established a new standard of $1.3 million in revenue.

Damon Sanders-Pratt, Forsyth County’s deputy county manager, said at that time that the revenue yield was 45 percent higher than in 2020, which was the highest year ever.

“Part of that is that we increased the cost to attend,” Sanders-Pratt said. “So that cost went up by more than the number of vehicles that went down.”

Rates went up 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 year’s rate was $35), and $115 cash and $118 credit/debit card for motorcoaches and buses (the previous year’s rate was $100).

Traffic has always been a big issue with those coming to the Festival of Lights, and a significant addition for 2020 was a road-widening project just inside the Tanglewood Park’s entrance. 

The timing couldn’t have been better to help with the busier than usual traffic after the arrival of COVID — because of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and restrictions on crowds gathering inside for holiday events.

Northtrail Road, which is at the first intersection inside the park before the entrance booth, was widened from two lanes to four lanes, allowing more vehicles to line up inside the park rather than backing up on U.S. 158, Harper Road and other connecting roads. 

“The special event roadway that was opened in 2020 has been a success in helping improve our traffic flows,” Weavil said. “We have also increased the number of cashiers at the gate location from two to four. We now average a transaction rate of around 350 cars per hour through the pay gate.”

“On our busier weekend nights, we will open the gates between 15 and 30 minutes prior to our 6 p.m. advertised start time. We take the traffic flows into and within the show very seriously, and we do everything we can to keep traffic flowing smoothly at all times.”

Weavil said that there were few bad weather days that affected the 32nd annual show, which opened in the middle of November and ran through New Year’s Day, except for some rain days in the final week that reduced the turnout.

He added that Friday and Saturday continue to be our busiest days with the weekends preceding Christmas being some of the most popular times to attend.

“Saturday, Dec. 9, and Saturday, Dec. 16, were our busiest days this past season with over 2,200 cars attending each of those nights,” Weavil said.