Trail of Lights:
400,000 to 500,000 visited 8-day event; producer wants tweaks to manage crowds.
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.”
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.