Trail of Lights:

400,000 to 500,000 vis­ited 8-day event; pro­ducer wants tweaks to man­age crowds.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By BenWear bwear@states­man.com states­man.com.

The suc­cess­ful re­turn of the Zilker Park hol­i­day at­trac­tion has or­ga­niz­ers op­ti­mistic about ex­pan­sion.

Paul Car­rozza says that when he and other Trail of Lights or­ga­niz­ers de­cided to keep the re­ju­ve­nated event at just eight days, or seven days less than its tra­di­tional length, they were play­ing it safe. No one could be sure how many peo­ple might show up for a Zilker Park hol­i­day stroll in the cel­e­bra­tion’s first year af­ter a two-year hia­tus.

They have their an­swer now: some­where be­tween 400,000 and 500,000 peo­ple. Or about twice the at­ten­dance that used to hit the trail, Car­rozza said, in about half the time.

“I think ev­ery­one in Cen­tral Texas and their im­me­di­ate fam­ily was there,” said Car­rozza, the RunTex owner and pro­ducer of the Trail of Lights. “I’ve never seen any­thing like See pho­tos and video from the Trail of Lights with this story at it.”

So will the event be back in 2013? Oh, yes, Car­rozza said, but with a num­ber of tweaks de­signed to bet­ter man­age the throngs.

First of all, he hopes to ex­tend it through New Year’s Eve, per­haps clos­ing it all out at the Zilker Tree at the stroke of mid­night on Dec. 31.

“It def­i­nitely war­rants an­other week,” said Car­rozza, in­ter­rupted dur­ing a Christ­mas Eve morn­ing run. He would fa­vor adding the ex­tra days on the back end of this year’s sched­ule, when kids are off from school and peo­ple are free from the preChrist­mas crunch, rather than ear­lier in De­cem­ber. The event took place un­der a one-year lease with the city of Austin, which used to pay for it but first scaled back the event and then dropped it be­cause

of bud­getary pres­sures. Car­rozza hopes to get a five-year lease next time, al­low­ing the Austin Trail of Lights Fund to bet­ter plan.

The event’s $1.2 mil­lion bud­get came en­tirely from pri­vate fundrais­ing.

Though he doesn’t sup­port charg­ing for en­try, which many peo­ple have sug­gested to him in re­cent days be­cause of the huge re­sponse to the free events, Car­rozza could see in­sti­tut­ing some sort of tick­et­ing to per­haps even out the flow and al­low peo­ple to plan their visit.

“I don’t want to cre­ate a fi­nan­cial bar­rier to en­try” for peo­ple of lim­ited means, he said. “We’ve got the in­ter­est. Now we just have to cre­ate or­der.”

The un­ex­pect­edly high at­ten­dance — Car­rozza cred­its good weather but above all the me­dia buzz grow­ing from the twoyear gap since the last event — cre­ated a crunch both for the shut­tles coming from three lo­ca­tions and for ve­hi­cles on south­bound MoPac Boule­vard (Loop 1) in the ap­proach to the Bee Cave Road exit. The orig­i­nal shut­tle plan called for 30 buses a night, but that was in­creased to 39 buses, then 50 and fi­nally 60, Car­rozza said. He said it might be a good idea for at least one of the shut­tle routes, the one from Barton Creek Square mall, to use a path that doesn’t in­volve MoPac, in­stead coming on Walsh Tar­leton Lane and Bee Cave.

Above all, Car­rozza, who was there ev­ery night, said he wants to build on what hap­pened over the past eight days.

“There was just so much en­ergy,” he said. “It was very ex­cit­ing.”

Alberto MArtínez / AMer­i­CAn-StAteS­MAn

Vladimir Giter­man (left), his wife, Inna, and son Sergei load up their crepe-mak­ing busi­ness Mon­day morn­ing, the day af­ter the Trail of Lights at Zilker Park ended. The Giter­mans had their busi­ness set up at the Trail of Lights.

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