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Follow Ben to see how WildLights gets its sparkle

Posted by Kirsten Pisto, Communications
Photo by Kirsten Pisto, Woodland Park Zoo

Hey everyone, we’d like to introduce you to Ben Haager, our events installation coordinator. He’s the Clark Griswold of WildLights, except that Ben is actually really good at keeping the lights on! Here’s Ben with a very special Woodland Park Zoo WildLights takeover to show you what is takes to get our glow on…

Hi everyone! It’s my first year coordinating WildLights presented by Sound Credit Union—and I am learning A LOT. Like how to hang and secure large light displays—I even had to get scissor lift certified—and become an expert in Santa decorations. There are lots of trips to Home Depot and local hardware stores as well as vintage thrift stores to find supplies for outfitting Santa’s camp which has a very PNW vibe. It smells pretty great in Santa’s camp thanks to loads of pine our horticulture crew has strewn up, they do such a great job with all the boughs. I really like the details we have at Santa’s Camp—we even have an old canoe! I’m going to show you what it takes to light up the zoo each night and give you a few tips for your own light displays…

Photo by Ryan Hawk, Woodland Park Zoo
All about the lights. There are so many types of lights, you have your minis, G-12, C-6, C-7, net lights and M-5 which is sort of the standard holiday light. We have some very artistic crew members with an eye for color. Our creative services team even made a color guide for different areas of the zoo, with suggestions as to which colors will pop in different locations, but new colors, like teal this year, are always coming out. We try to stick with a two-tone color pattern on most of the displays, but sometimes we’ll use many colors that compliment like blues, greens and teals.

It’s not about the number of lights you put up, but how many you can keep on! Our wet Washington winters make it hard to keep on the lights, so sometimes a few strands can go a long way in making your yard look sparkling. Sometimes less is more in certain areas!

Squirrel photo by @mross1361 via Instagram
We’ve got problems, squirrel problems. They’re cute, but they definitely keep us on our toes! They prefer the G12 bulbs, the little round ones that most resemble acorns. We’ve tried deterrents, like hot pepper wax on the lights, but they don’t mind the spice! So, we just end up replacing wires and trying to hang them above the ground when possible. So far they have chewed through quite a few string—squirrels: 42, zoo: 0

Snowmazium is always really fun—we have UV lights that cast a magical icy glow over the whole place—and icicle streamers that our theater crew helps install—it’s a really cool transformation. Plus, we have seen some pretty epic snowball fights in here. It’s really rewarding seeing a space like this transform into a whole new look. 

This is sort of a secret workshop back here where we get all the lights organized and fix displays, but our real secret sauce for a successful WildLights? Goop. At least, that’s what we call it. This stuff protects rain or water from getting into the ends of the light strings. Obviously, electricity and water do not mix, so we seal each plug with a little bit of this goop to prevent water from getting inside. 

This is a spider box, it’s an electrical split for 250 volts, much like your circuit breaker at home. It acts as a surge protector for lights all over the zoo. We have about 12 of these units across the zoo during WildLights. Each night we have to turn on each circuit to light up the zoo. We have over 600,000 energy-efficient LED lights recreating wild animals and wild places. I have to say that it’s pretty satisfying to be able to flip a switch and transform the zoo into a dazzling light display.

This is our 6th WildLights season, and each year we’ve added new elements and displays. This year we have a few new light displays such as lemurs and warty pigs AND we have a really awesome glow wall! The glow wall is my favorite this year because we haven’t had anything like this before so it was fun to research and build. It’s also interactive which I really like. It’s always cool to see your guests become part of the event, I love the interactive element. It’s also neat to see guests come back year after year and notice the new light displays we’ve added.

We actually start the WildLights installation the day after Labor Day! I help coordinate the installation and work with two crews. We work with International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees who give us a huge advantage because they are really good at thinking about lighting and thinking about how the audience will experience each display. They are also thinking about safety too, especially with so many treetop displays. Having this extra support really comes in handy since WildLights is such a big operation. Our second crew is made up of zoo staff whose job it is to wrap the trees and blanket the zoo in as much sparkling lights as we can. 

Everyone really puts a lot of creativity and effort into WildLights—it’s a ton of work and I couldn’t do it without the support of this rock solid crew.

Have you roasted a marshmallow at our cozy fire pit seats yet? Our exhibits crew cut these stumps from trees that had to be taken out or had fallen on grounds. Then our WildLights crew sanded them and coated them with a sealant to protect them from weather. I really like the way they’ve turned out and they are a really warm spot to take same chill time.

Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren, Woodland Park Zoo
Thank you all for following along today. It was fun to show you the ins and outs of WildLights! 

Get your sparkle on by visiting If you see me or any of the WildLights crew, please say hello! We always love to hear what you think of our latest light displays!