BY KATIE MATTESON
What do you get when you combine 50 tons of steel, 12,000 meters of silk, 10,000 LED light bulbs, 5,000 strips of LED fairy lights, 11,000 meters of cable and wire on the grounds of the Racine Zoo?
By day, you get a beautiful collection of handmade artwork displayed throughout the southern part of the zoo grounds.
By night, you’ll experience the transformation of the zoo into a world of illumination with custom-made lanterns depicting tigers, lions, pandas, exotic lions and a colossal dragon in 26 lantern groups with over 300 custom-made lanterns.
More than 100,000 people are expected to attend the Lantern Festival at the Racine Zoo during 80 nights between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31.
The festival will be open between 6-10 p.m. (last entry at 9 p.m.) on weeknights and 6-11 p.m. (last entry at 10 p.m..) on Fridays and Saturdays.
So how does one go about arranging for a Chinese lantern festival to come to the zoo?
“The company actually found us,” Executive Director Beth Heidorn said. “We were among a number of venues that the Zigong Lantern Group were exploring during 2018 to plan for their 2019 season.”
Other United States festival sites chosen for 2019 include Jungle Island in Miami, the Nashville Zoo and Magnolia Plantation and Gardens in Charleston, SC.
The Racine Zoo received an email inquiry on May 18, 2018 and representatives from Zigong came for a site visit on July 18. Heidorn said they toured the grounds and met with zoo staff for three or four hours, then stuck around to enjoy the World Wine Wednesday event taking place that evening.
After Zigong determined the zoo was a good site for the event, it was up to Heidorn and her team to do their part to find marketing funds for the regional event.
After securing grant funding from Real Racine, the State of Wisconsin Department of Tourism and the City of Racine, Heidorn said she felt comfortable to move forward with the plans and traveled to China in March to tour the facility and meet with the lantern designers.
During the past six months, Heidorn has received videos and photos of the lanterns under construction, while continuing to fundraise and make preparations for the event.
In early August the components of the displays started arriving in nine shipping containers, which were unloaded in warehouse space contributed by David and Nicholas Eberle at Norco Manufacturing in Racine.
A crew of 27 workers will arrive from China in August to begin construction of the displays. They’ll work from 7:30 a.m. – 9 p.m. for five to six weeks so everything is ready to go by the opening day.
Throughout the Lantern Festival the zoo will host musical entertainment and Danny’s Catering will provide food and beverages for purchase for guests of all ages.
“This is a game changer for the zoo,” Heidorn said. “As with all the events we offer, people experience the zoo in different ways and the Lantern Festival takes us to a new level.”
Tickets for the Lantern Festival are available at racinezoo.org. Adult (ages 16 and older) $20 online ($25 at the door), Senior (ages 62 and older) $15 online ($20 at the door), Child (ages 3-15) $12 online ($17 at the door) and Young Child (age 2 and younger) free.
For more information, call the Racine Zoo at (262) 636-9189.