Volunteers add spark, shimmer to Wilson Winter Lights

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No one really knows how many light bulbs are in this year’s Wilson Winter Lights display at the Wilson Botanical Gardens.

The estimate is in the tens of thousands, according to Cindy Lauderdale, Wilson County Cooperative Extension horticulture agent and executive director of the gardens.

“I’d hate to have to pay the electric bill,” said volunteer Walter Brown, of Wilson, who described himself as a senior supervisor with no authority on the project.

This is the fourth year that Brown and a dedicated group of volunteers have strung strands of lights through 15 themed areas like Candy Cane Lane, Santa’s Snow Globe and Angels Cove.

“New this year is Sugar Plum Shimmer, which is based off of ‘The Nutcracker’ and so we have larger-than-life nutcrackers in the garden that I think people will enjoy and that is in the stream area in the Children’s Secret Garden,” Lauderdale said. “We have new displays, bigger and better things in the displays. This year will be the same walking footprint, but we have new things in each area. Things in the garden kind of need to be bigger than life, so that’s what we strive for.”

Many of the volunteers are from area 4-H clubs.

“Every year our club has been involved, since the very first year. We always come and decorate,” said volunteer Judy Zampella, whose three granddaughters are in the New Hope 4-H Club.

The group came out on Nov. 28 to install colorful lighted flowers made from 1-liter soda bottles and aluminum cans in a section called Butterfly Flights of Fancy.

“It’s getting to look like Hobby Lobby craft section over here, but they get excited about doing it and it comes out nice,” Zampella said.

“A group of men came that were able to hang up all the high stuff and the little girls that came were fabulous,” Zampella said. “I laid everything out in boxes and asked them to come here and do this and that and I turned around and it was done. What I thought was going to take me three hours, they had it done in about an hour and 15 minutes.”

James Flowers, an 18-year-old member of the 4-H Flywheel Electric Club, described the tedious process of choreographing lights and music for the Dazzling Light section of the gardens.

“Last year, it would take an hour per minute when we had 16 channels. This year, since we have 32 channels so we can have more lights shining at once with the music, now it takes about two hours per minute. One of our songs recently took eight hours to make.”

Flowers, with assistance from club members Josiah Carpenter and Trinity Carpenter, are using a computer program to place markers in each melody at tenth-of-a-second intervals to give electronic cues to the lights when to turn on and off.

“We have to arrange it exactly when the beat happens,” Flowers said.

Flowers said the theme from Charlie Brown was a particularly fun one to program.

“That one took a half a day to program with all the instruments involved,” Flowers said.

The lights go on and off several hundred times during the course of a three-minute melody, not including twinkle effects.

“We try our best to do it for every single note that there is,” Flowers said.

“The first year we did it, we only had 16 channels and we really didn’t know what we were doing,” Flowers said. “So every year, we would look back at the previous year and we would make improvements. We now are getting better at it, so this year should be better programming.”

“We rely solely on volunteers for the entire event, so what people see has been put up all by volunteers,” Lauderdale said. “The people that they see working the event are all volunteers. We also have all three high school ROTC groups helping volunteer each night of the event.”

Refreshments at the event will be provided by the Beddingfield Future Farmers of America, 4-H Shooting Sports Club, 4-H Study Abroad Club and the 4-H Small-Town Clovers Club.

Holiday-themed music is being provided at 7 p.m. by The Hope Singers of the Arc of Wilson on Dec. 8, Cassie Dunn Ellis on Dec. 9 and the ProMusic Conservatory on Dec. 10.

The last days for the light show are from 6 to 9 p.m. Dec. 8-10 in the gardens located at the Wilson County Agricultural Center on Tarboro Street.

Tickets are $5 for ages 13 and up and $3 for 12 and under. The price includes a free visit with Santa. The last tickets are sold at 8:45 p.m. for cash or check only.

“Take as many pictures as you want. Just bring your phone or your camera and get family photos,” Lauderdale said.

All the proceeds go to the Wilson Botanical Gardens. Some $20,000 was raised in 2016.