FORT HOOD, Texas -- Finding the delicate balance between new and traditional displays is part of the balancing act Lisa Lorenz-Bass had to juggle while planning the annual Nature in Lights event here.
Celebrating its 24th year at Belton Lake Outdoor Recreation Area, Lorenz-Bass, who serves as the program coordinator for Fort Hood’s Outdoor Recreation Department, said every year the drive through Nature in Lights feels different because they try to change things up year-to-year, while also keeping people’s favorite displays.
The idea for Nature in Lights was to find a way to bring people into the park during its off-season. With 58 displays during its inaugural year in 1996, Nature in Lights drew in more than 100,000 visitors and they knew they had a winning idea. Since then, the park has welcomed more than three million visitors to see the light show.
While Lorenz-Bass organizes, plans and designs the displays, her husband, Dennis Bass, who is in charge of keeping BLORA beautiful, brings her ideas to life with his crew, who are jacks of all trades.
“Lisa comes up with a design or theme. We’ll take that design and put it on graph paper,” Bass explained. “We then draw it out on the floor to scale and shape the metal to match the outline.”
After the metal matches the shape of the outline, they paint the frame and then attach the lights.
“We’re usually only in here for about two or three months, but with COVID, we couldn’t rent pavilions, so we had it all summer to work on displays,” he explained. “We ended up getting a lot of displays refurbished.”
Due to the extreme weather conditions in Central Texas, while Bass is building new displays, he also has to maintain the older ones. He said the wiring only lasts around five or six years, which is when he strips down the displays, repaints the weathered metal and then attaches new lights. With nearly 300 displays in their inventory, it can prove very time-consuming, which makes Nature in Lights a year-round activity for the BLORA crew.
This year, Nature in Lights is a 5.5-mile route with 141 displays. Cute forest creatures carrying ornaments will highlight the woodland creatures theme.
“I was thinking about Nature in Lights and when I think about nature, I think about forest creatures,” Lorenz-Bass said. “We have a lot of reindeer and snowmen and elves, so sometimes it’s nice to throw in something that’s a little bit different, but also related.”
Lorenz-Bass said there will be photo opportunities for people, so they should bring their cameras, but there won’t be Santa photos. Santa is taking a break this year, so he will not be at Santa’s Village taking photos with children.
“We want Santa to social distance at the North Pole, so he’s healthy, strong and fit for his big day,” she said.
Santa’s Depot, the ever-popular train ride has also been cancelled this year, but the Texas-themed displays normally seen on the train ride have been moved to the BLORA Ranch, where they are offering $5 pony rides for children.
BLORA Ranch hosted Saddle Night, Nov. 6-7, with 70 in attendance. Depending on the need, they may host another Saddle Night in January. Stay up-to-date regarding another possible Saddle Night in January by visiting https://hood.armymwr.com. Riders must bring a copy of their horse’s negative Coggins test in order to ride.
“With everything going on in the world, this is a great way to bring people together,” Tiffany Zeitouni, BLORA Ranch contractor, said.
Visitors coming on Mondays through Wednesdays will receive a complimentary Nature in Lights ornament, while supplies last.
BLORA will also be hosting a Sole Night, tentatively scheduled for Jan. 8. Runners and walkers will be able to enjoy the lights via foot.
Nature in Lights is open to the public Friday and will run daily from 5:30-11 p.m., through Jan. 3. Tickets are $20 per car, van or truck; $35 for 15-passenger vans, limos or RVs; $55 for 24-passenger vans; $80 for 47-passenger vans or buses.
Nature in Lights is located at BLORA, 7999 Sparta Road. For more information or advance tickets, call (254) 287-2523.