AUSTIN -- Two years ago when Austin city officials announced that they would be canceling the city's 47-year-old tradition of a holiday lights display in Zilker Park, it was a sad day indeed. With a struggling economy, city officials said they simply couldn't afford to put on the show.
But Thursday morning Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell stood smiling proudly as he announced, "We will go ahead with the Trail of Lights for December 2012. We're very proud of that."
A host of corporate sponsors including RunTex , Dell and the lead sponsor grocery chain H-E-B, are pledging to put up the $1.2 million it will take to put on the display.
City staffers will assist in organizing, but the city will not allocate any money for the event.
The Trail of Lights orginated in 1965. Back then it was called Yulefest.
"We're hearing stories of when people were kids and their moms and dads bringing them out to this event. Now they have kids and they're bringing their moms and dads and in some cases three generations walking the trail together," said Forefront Austin CEO Jay Watson. Watson and his company are helping to organize the event.
In recent years as many as 250,000 people have come to Austin to see the lights. Organizers are expecting just as many people this year and like past years, the Trail of Lights will be free.
"Throughout the challenges in the last few years, it was thought about whether or not we should charge for the Trail of Lights. H-E-B is so excited that again this year it is a free event. Everybody is welcome," said H-E-B Director of Public Affairs Leslie Sweet.
The Trail of Lights will kick off on Dec. 16, 2012 with a 5K run followed by the grand opening of the lights display. It will run through Dec. 23 and just like in past years, there will be numerous performances as well as food and drinks.
And H-E-B is doing something new this year. The company currently has a literacy initiative to encourage parents to read to their children. So every child that attends the Trail of Lights will recieve a free book.