Every year starting in August, it's game on as far as getting Rock City ready for The Enchanted Garden of Lights — opening Friday.
While the on Lookout Mountain attraction remains open year-round, the display of lights was introduced in the late 1980s and has since evolved into the park's most popular event, drawing an estimated 75,000 guests yearly. Many of those visitors are returning attendees who make the journey from cities like Atlanta and Nashville.
"The Enchanted Lights created an entirely new segment for us," Rock City's senior manager of innovation, Will Jackson, said in a telephone interview. "It makes up a sizable percentage of our year. This is a huge thing for us. We work on it every year, and we work on it all year. ... I'm already working on 2024 and 2026."
Last year saw a significant expansion, increasing the event's footprint by 35% to 45%, Jackson said. This year, the growth continues with the addition of thousands of new lights and more interactive shows.
Reflecting on the park's history, Jackson said the transition from the original 1932 incandescent lighting to LED lighting was an important moment in Rock City's commitment to sustainability. By 2010, everything had been switched to LED, substantially reducing energy consumption.
In past five years, Rock City began making the move to computer-controlled technology, giving artists and planners the ability to create mesmerizing shows unlike guests had ever seen before. One of the fan favorites has been the dancing trees of the Magic Forest.
"They twist and blink and do all kinds of cool stuff to the music," Jackson said.
Among the additions for this year are a multicolored 40-foot walk-through tree leading people into the park. And in the courtyard (aka The North Pole), officials have added a 25-foot tree with changing lights.
As guests meander through the sparkling realms such as the Arctic Kingdom and the Heart of the Mountain, newly installed LED guideposts will help them navigate the paths. From Yuletown (the park's scenic overlook spanning seven states), visitors can experience the nighttime view of the valley.
Rock City Art Manager Keith Snider said the art team was able to add two new employees within the past year, which helped in preparing for the holiday extravaganza. Having the extra help allowed staff to pay closer attention to detail.
"We've taken a more painterly approach, using an artistic eye in as many places as we can," he said. "We've wrapped more trees, and wrapped them higher, and put in more up lighting to create magic and highlight the rock formations."
The Enchanted Garden of Lights opens at 4:30 p.m. daily, and will run through Jan. 6. A portion of the proceeds go to support the Ronald McDonald House. For ticket information and additional details, visit seerockcity.com/lights.