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River of Lights raises $700K for BioPark

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Attendance at last year’s River of Lights holiday display at the ABQ BioPark Botanic Garden was lower than originally estimated, but the event was still an overall success in terms of net revenue raised by the ABQ BioPark Society.

Julie Miller Rugg, executive director of the BioPark Society, said the lighted sculpture extravaganza attracted just over 104,000 visitors – 24,000 fewer than it did in 2017, when there were about 128,000 visitors.

In mid-December, BioPark Society events director Taylor Pellegrini said attendance at the River of Lights was down 9,000 compared with the same time period in 2017.

While it was unclear why that decrease was occurring, Pellegrini suggested that attendance would hopefully pick up when school let out for winter break. Further, she acknowledged, people might have been turned off by past experiences with lengthy lines and wait times at the shuttle pickup location in the parking lot of the BioPark Zoo, at 903 10th SW.

In response to that, the BioPark Society chartered more free park-and-ride buses, and the city made free Rapid Ride bus service available from two additional locations.

In 2017, the River of Lights event netted the BioPark Society $810,000, Rugg said. Although final numbers for 2018 are not in, and despite the decline in attendance, Rugg said the society expects to net about $700,000, of which nearly $80,000 came from the new “Magic Hour” opportunity in which 400 tickets at $20 each were made available nightly for early admission.

There was enough interest and revenue generated by it to convince the society to make it a regular feature of the River of Lights, Rugg said.

The River of Lights is the biggest fundraiser of the year for the BioPark Society, which provides financial support for the different branches of the BioPark, including the zoo, botanic garden, aquarium and Tingley Beach.

Both Rugg and Pellegrini acknowledged that there were still complaints about long admission lines, wait times and parking, but those issues came about because “everybody waited until the last week and half to go,” Rugg said.

The River of Lights was open from 6 to 9:30 p.m. each night, Nov. 24 through Dec. 30. Some of the weekend nights prior to Christmas saw as many as 7,000 visitors, Rugg said.

To avoid the crowds, she offers this simple advice: Visit the River of Lights earlier during its limited run, and go on weekday nights when there are fewer people.