Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens did something so wondrous last year it attracted 36,000 visitors, most of whom would never have ventured onto the Boothbay peninsula during the winter. From as far away as Texas and California, people made the trek to our little corner of the world to see something so spectacular it had to be seen to be believed.
The gardens were, yes, aglow, with 180,000 LED lights, strung up along walking paths and around trees, plants and arbors, as visitors slowly made their way through the awe-inspiring display, wide-eyed and delighted.
The event was a huge success, and this year's Gardens Aglow is slated to be, if possible, even bigger and better.
This year the gardens will be lit up again — with twice as many lights — over 360,000. CMBG Director of Marketing Kris Folsom anticipates up to 50,000 visitors.
Aside from the light display, as if that's not going to be impressive enough, there will be a scavenger hunt featuring fairy houses. Five large, intricately detailed fantastical houses are being built by volunteers. “It is super exciting — they're going to be dramatic,” Folsom said. “They'll be placed around in different locations, and they'll be lit from within.”
The area being lit up this year won't be considerably bigger than last year, so the lighting will be more condensed and even more magical, if that's possible. “We've more than doubled the lights, but you won't have to walk twice as far,” Folsom said. “It will be more powerful and dramatic.”
Another addition this year will be food trucks. There will be three or four different vendors, all with “walkable” food.
Parking was a bit of a problem last year. This year, more parking spaces have been added, but the large volume of visitors expected could present a traffic problem. Gardens Aglow visitors are being encouraged to take advantage of the bus service that will be implemented for it and the Boothbay Festival of Lights.
The Boothbay Festival of Lights in Boothbay Harbor will be going on at the same time as Gardens Aglow. Two shuttle buses, each able to hold 48 people, will be transporting people from the municipal parking lot in Boothbay Harbor to Gardens Aglow every half hour, beginning at 3:30 p.m. daily. “We're hoping people will go into town early to start their visit — to shop, go out to eat, check into their inn or motel, then get on the bus that will bring them right to Gardens Aglow, and take them back to town afterward,” Folsom said.
There will also be car pool setups at the Edgecomb and Boothbay town halls and at Clifford Park.
Folsom said she has enjoyed the camaraderie of working with other community members. “We're working together to really elevate the presence of the peninsula for the rest of the state and beyond.”
She spoke glowingly of Boothbay Harbor and Boothbay town managers, Tom Woodin and Dan Bryer. “They are fantastic, and they work together so well. They have the best interests of both communities and the entire peninsula in mind and are able to work harmoniously and to be so professional and enthusiastic. It's a win-win.”
Because the times for the light show will be condensed into the darker hours — 4 to 9 p.m. — Folsom is encouraging people to come at staggered times: 4 p.m., 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. “If everyone arrives at the same time, regardless of how many parking spaces are available, it will get crowded.”
CMBG will also be sponsoring a lighting contest during the Festival of Lights and Gardens Aglow. Folsom is encouraging anyone and everyone with a home or business on this peninsula to decorate with holiday lights. The grand prize will be $2,500 and 15 tickets to Gardens Aglow. Register for the Gardens Aglow Lighting Contest at gardensaglow.org by Nov. 29.
“The whole goal is to encourage people to become a part of this,” Folsom said. “It is a community event and community participation is what is going to make it successful.
“When people come to visit us and their dream of what they were promised has been fulfilled, it's going to be great. We only get one chance to make a good first impression. We want to make sure that as a community we're putting our best foot forward.”
Both the Boothbay Festival of Lights and Gardens Aglow will begin on Nov. 18 and continue through Dec. 31.
Purchase tickets online at http://www.mainegardens.org or at the door. Tickets will cost $2 extra if bought at the door.
For more information about where to stay, dine and shop during Gardens Aglow and the Boothbay Festival of Lights, go to www.boothbaylights.com.