HOT SPRINGS -- Safety and family memories, not lights, will be the focus of Garvan Woodland Gardens' new daytime winter garden festival this year, according to garden officials.
"We are creating a daytime, family friendly event that will celebrate the winter season," Becca Ohman, garden director, said Tuesday. Ohman noted that the entire garden will be open for the festival, unlike Holiday Lights, which was held on just a portion of the garden grounds.
Ohman, who has worked the Holiday Lights event for seven years, said trying something completely different this year is something she has enjoyed.
"It's definitely an exciting challenge to re-imagine the winter experience," Ohman said. "It's a wonderful opportunity."
She said they "like to believe that Holiday Lights celebrates the uniqueness of Garvan," and continuing that tradition with a daytime festival is a "wonderful challenge."
Executive Director Bob Bledsoe said in a news release that while some of the festival displays may contain lights, "the traditional holiday lights of previous years will not be the focus of this year's display. Our focus is on families making memories in a daytime winter garden with attractive seasonal displays at popular spots along the trails."
The news release said the Garvan Pavilion will be transformed into a life-size Snow Globe and James the Train will offer opportunities for "Santa Selfies" on select days.
"The Dooley arbor, the entry plaza arbor, the new fairy garden circle, the bulb meadow and Jack's Bench will also be ideal locations for family photo ops. A new display along the Camellia Trail will feature creations for the winter landscape by design students of the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design," the release said.
Areas previously inaccessible at night, including the Evans Children's Adventure Garden, the Evans Tree House, the Hixson Nature Preserve, and the Perry Wildflower Overlook will all be open, it said.
Over the years, the number of lights featured during Holiday Lights climbed to around 5 million, Ohman said, noting that the displays typically took 10 to 12 weeks to install.
The new daytime festival will take only a third of that time to install.
"This will take about a month," she said.
By moving the festival to the daytime, and opening up the entire garden, Ohman said, "we anticipate the guests being able to spread out among the 210 acres."
She said staff will also watch the number of people being admitted into the garden.
"In light of the pandemic of 2020 and the need to provide an experience that allows for social distancing, it became necessary to create a new daytime winter garden display for the season that would meet our goals of providing a venue in which families could celebrate the winter holiday season with us as in past years, yet in much safer circumstances," Bledsoe said in the release.
Ohman said it is unclear whether the daytime festival will continue after the coronavirus pandemic ends.
"We will evaluate the success of the daytime show and consider all options for future seasons," she said.
This season will also be a good learning opportunity for the garden, Ohman said.
"Holiday Lights is a year-round endeavor, and we take great pride in the creation of new ideas and concepts. We anticipate learning a lot from this year's winter experience and hope to apply all that we learn and (build) an even better display in 2021," she said.
The festival runs Nov. 21 through Dec. 31. Garvan will be closed on both Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. It will be open from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. daily, with the last ticket sold each day at 5 p.m. For pricing information, visit http://www.garvangardens.org.