There is something magical about lights at this time of year. As a child, my parents would pack us all into the car and drive past houses with amazing lights. We would hunt for the best houses and go visit them, sometimes more than once.
When my children were born, my wife and I started taking them around the neighborhood to see the lights. As babies, they went in strollers bundled under blankets. On super cold nights, we tucked a hot water bottle in with them. They looked at the lights with excitement and my wife and I stretched our legs. Holiday walks are still a tradition as the kids have gotten older.
Lighting technology has come a long way since I was a kid. Big lights that used lots of electricity are quickly becoming a thing of the past, while low power LED lights, lasers and other technologies have become common.
Four years ago, a small company in Warren, Pennsylvania called Volt Vision approached Audubon about doing a light show at the Nature Center. The owner and chief engineer, Steve French, started dreaming up the possibilities of what could happen with a combination of technology and education. Within six months, the first Winter Lights was born.
It is not the kind of light show I went to as a child. This is a light show that goes far beyond anything I could imagine. Every year, new elements are added that push the boundaries of what I consider possible.
The show is filled with interactive lights that the visitors control. There are flashlights that cause animals to light up and howl, hoot, snort or make whatever noise they make. Hit a garbage can and a Flying Squirrel is lit up as it jumps from tree to tree. Turning knobs lights up up a fake tree and shows how sap flows through the seasons. This year, an interactive video will be added into the show, along with some other surprises.
Staying warm is important. A warm fire at the halfway point provides a space for visitors to get warm and relax. The building will open and all the exhibits available. Hot chocolate, coffee and snacks will be on sale in the building.
The technology used to create a light show is amazing to me. There are computers less than half the size of my pinky with the adorable name of teensies. These tiny computers can connect to all kinds of sensors and be programmed to make lights and speakers do things that are completely unique to the show. LED lights in pixel strips can light almost anything. Does that sentence make as little sense to you as it did to me when I first heard it?
If so, a new exhibit on how the lights work will be featured inside. It will showcase the strips of lights and how they can be used to mix different colors. The display will highlight the teensy that runs the show and how different components work together to create the show.
The show opens December 16 with a “21 and over” night. The night will feature local beers, food, and live music in addition to the lights. Music will be provided by local band Smackdab. Beer will be from the Southern Tier Brewing Company and some other local breweries. The first two drinks are included with
tickets and non-alcoholic drinks are available. You can reserve tickets for this night online at auduboncnc.org, or by calling (716) 569-2345 for $25 or $20 for Friends of the Nature Center members. Tickets will also be available at the door.
Winter Lights runs through January 7. Aside from the adult night, it costs $10 for adults and $8 for children 3-15 and Friends of the Nature Center. Children two and under are free. Winter Lights runs from 5:30 to 8:00p.m on December 17, 22, 23, 29, 30 and January 6 and 7.
Winter Lights is sponsored by Everyday’s TruValue Hardware in Jamestown. It would be impossible without the creative genius of Steve French at Volt Vision and the hard work of the many volunteers who help with wiring, carpentry and putting the many pieces of the show out on the trails.
ACNC builds and nurtures connections between people and nature. For more information on Winter Lights and all things Audubon, visit auduboncnc.org or call (716) 569-2345. The Audubon Community Nature Center is located at 1600 Riverside Road, just east of Route 62 between Jamestown, New York and Warren, Pennsylvania. The trails are open daily dawn to dusk, and the Nature Center is open 1:00 p.m. until 4:30 p.m. daily except Saturday when it opens at 10:00 a.m.
Jeff Tome is a naturalist at the Nature Center and coordinates Winter Lights each winter.