Memories overflowing as Denver Zoo celebrates 30 years of Zoo Lights

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DENVER – This year, Denver Zoo’s Zoo Lights exhibit turns 30 years old and the anniversary is bringing back memories for families, Zoo staff and volunteers.

Guest services director Patrick Phelan loves it when guests tell him about their favorite Zoo Lights stories.

“We have plenty of people who say ‘I came and had my first date here and now I’m married to that person and now we’re bringing our kids,” Phelan said. “That’s really cool to see that year after year tradition.”

Back in 1991, the display was known as Wildlights and was a lot smaller – just 30,000 lights and two light sculptures. While there are now millions of lights and dozens of sculptures, those first two sculptures are still a part of the action.

“Those first two sculptures we had were a wart hog that you will see right at the front of the zoo and one that we call animal party which is a bunch of different animals in the shape of a wreath,” Phelan said.

This year, COVID restrictions mean there will be far fewer people roaming the light covered walkways. Fewer timed tickets are available, and groups that do show up will be required to wear masks unless they are actively involved in eating one of the foods created just for the occasion.

And while keeping guests safe is a top priority, the real goal this year is the same as every year – creating lasting holiday memories.

“A stress free easy evening out with just the beauty of the lights with someone you are close to and love, that just sets that great memory,” Phelan said.