Mayor-backed plan would charge admission to Trail of Lights

AUSTIN (KXAN) — It may be four months away, but the City of Austin is already thinking about Christmas.

If a resolution picks up steam, the Trail of Lights will no longer be a free event, at least for those 13 and older visiting Zilker Park on certain nights.

GOING IN-DEPTH // Challenging Times

  • In 2009, it was scaled back due to city budget costs.
  • In 2010, the event was outright canceled.
  • In 2011, there was a discussion about letting private companies takeover and charging up to $5 a ticket. But that fell apart and the event was canceled again.
  • In 2012, it finally came back thanks to help from the Runtex Foundation.
  • And just last year, the Trail of Lights Foundation was created to raise money for the event.

“Just the creativity, the different animations that they bring along, it’s just awesome,” Joe Ruiz said about the display. He moved to Austin from El Paso eight years ago and says going to the Trail of Lights has become an annual family tradition. “The environment, everybody is real friendly, the holiday spirit you know.”

Ruiz says the Trail of Lights is so much fun, he would be happy to pay $3 per adult on weekends.

“I think everybody needs to contribute” Ruiz added. “I mean it’s a great thing that they have here for families and kids and $3 for adults is nothing.”

The idea to begin charging is part of a resolution proposed by Mayor Lee Leffingwell. He says more money is needed to cover security, clean up fees and staffing on weekends.

“Attendance on the weekdays is not so high,” he said, “but they’re really overcrowding Saturdays and Sundays.”

But Ruiz says crowds won’t bother him come Dec. 7.

“It is what it is,” he said. “If the Trail of Lights are up, I’m going to take my family and enjoy it whether there’s a million people there or a thousand people there.”

If approved, the fee would apply for adults and kids 13 and up on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights only. City Council will take up the matter on Thursday.

The event started in 1965 and attracted more than 425,000 visitors last year. Visitors wanting to bypass the line could purchase Zip passes last year, but general admission remained free.

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