First-timer’s impressions of Shore Acres Holiday Lights (2014)
As an Oregonian for the past 32 years, it’s embarrassing to admit that I had never experienced Shore Acres Holiday Lights. Three months into my new job on the communications team here at Oregon State Parks, it seemed the perfect time to brave the weather and take a road trip to the south coast, with Shore Acres State Park at the top of my list of must-see attractions.
I arrived on a recent rainy Thursday evening, after visiting Heceta Head and Umpqua Lighthouse state parks, also firsts for me. (Did you know that Heceta Head has the only active British-made lens of its size in the country?) The rain slowed to a drizzle, the clouds parted, and all around me the garden sparkled in a dazzling display of lights and sculptures representing the Oregon coast. Before me, a row of pelicans glided through the air near the lit Garden House, open for hot cider, punch and cookies and decorated for the season.
The manicured gardens were once part of the grand estate of a pioneer timber baron. They come back to life each holiday season with a spectacular light show, a tradition that began in 1987 when Friends of Shore Acres decided to “string a few lights” to celebrate the holidays. That first season, 6,000 miniature lights, a large Christmas tree and the decorated Garden House drew 9,000 visitors. The festival has since grown to 300,000 lights and more than 48,000 visitors last year.
The Friends installed the first sculpture – a pair of herons – in 1990. They were originally decorated with your basic miniature lights, then upgraded in 2010 to LED rope lights. Now almost all of the park’s lights are LED, which last much longer.
Meandering through the garden, I enjoyed a raccoon, deer and rabbit peeking at me over a gate, a new sculpture for 2014.
A group of garden bugs crawled across the lawn in front of a whimsically lit performance pavilion, which hosts musicians and choirs throughout the festival’s run.
A contender for “most quintessentially coastal” is the gray whale sculpture with animated spout, added in 1994.
Interpretive Park Ranger Stephanie Miller shared with me the vast community and volunteer effort behind the scenes. The Friends start planning in January and build and refurbish sculptures over the summer. Hundreds of volunteers spend six weeks stringing lights to prepare for the Thanksgiving opening, and local businesses and organizations decorate the park’s 26 Christmas trees. In total, some 1,500 volunteers help with tasks such as making buttons, checking lights, hosting at the Garden House and working in the gift center. The Friends pay for lights, decorations and display expenses with support from local businesses and park visitors.
Mary and David Ballard of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, were volunteering in the gift center the night of my visit. They’ve spent countless vacations on the Oregon coast, but this is their first experience at Holiday Lights.
“The lights are just spectacular,” Mary said. “One of my favorite things to do is to wait at the entrance and watch the kids’ faces as they walk into the park.”
If you go
The 28th annual Holiday Lights at Shore Acres State Park runs 4 to 9:30 p.m. nightly through New Year’s Eve. Entering is free; parking is $5 per vehicle, or show a current Oregon State Parks annual day-use parking permit, Oregon Coast Passport or current campground receipt.
Where to camp
Sunset Bay State Park is next door to Shore Acres. A network of trails connects Sunset Bay with Shore Acres and Cape Arago state parks. Stay in a tent, RV or one of the park’s eight yurts, which fill up fast. Check here for availability. Be sure to check out the view of Cape Arago Lighthouse and head to Cape Arago for whale watching.
With 16 yurts and plenty of openings, William M. Tugman State Park is another good option for those who like the idea of a cozy winter camping experience. Check here for availability. The quiet hideaway is 27 miles north of Shore Acres, and its central location makes it a great park for exploring other attractions between Reedsport and Coos Bay.