Updated: Friday, 22 May 2009, 2:31 PM CDT
Published : Thursday, 21 May 2009, 4:50 PM CDT
AUSTIN (KXAN) - Time to turn off the lights. Austin's Trail of Lights through Zilker Park could be in the dark this holiday season because of a budget shortfall.
The mile-long trail usually meanders through more than 40 LCD displays and attracts more than 300,000 spectators. The city's Parks and Recreation Department has already slashed $2.8 million from its budget. Taking away the Trail of Lights would cut $800,000 more.
"My heart broke,” said Christiane Dodillet after hearing the idea. “It's an Austin tradition. Been here for years."
From a team of horses to herding her first-grade class along, that tradition annually led Christiane Dodillet back to the Trail of Lights for the event’s 11-year history.
"When I drove carriages out there, there were families that were raised doing that,” she said. “They brought their kids to do that, their grandkids to do that. It's just an Austin tradition. I think, if the public knew, then maybe people would band together and try to figure something out."
The public already gave more than $50,000 to park each holiday season, plus another $9,000 in donations. But, for an event that takes two months to put up and another two to take down, the city is still considering pulling the plug.
"The cost kept rising,” said Austin Parks and Recreation Director Sarah Hensley. “And we couldn't get enough sponsors to cover it."
Over the event's tenure, the economy sank. As the city cut its budget, so did those corporate sponsors.
"You know, we don't want to be the 'Grinch that stole Christmas,'” said Hensley. “Let's see if we can't get the community who benefits from this to step up."
The 10-day event also racks up plenty of overtime for her department, which has a freeze on all current vacancies. Free-family fun might end with an idea to charge people to enter.
"You can't put a dollar value to it,” Hensley said. “That's why this is so difficult."
Dodillet laughed, "Probably five bucks, just depends on how many kids I had with me."
Worth the cost, Dodillet said. For some, this is Christmas. She dreads the day her kids find out.
The city wants public input before it makes a final decision in September. The issue is on the agenda for next week's Parks and Recreation Board meeting. It starts at 6 p.m. on May 26, at the Austin City Hall’s Boards and Commissions Room. The meeting is open to the public.