AUSTIN (KXAN) - Time to turn off the lights. Austin's Trail ofLights through Zilker Park could be in the dark this holidayseason because of a budget shortfall.
The mile-long trail usually meanders through more than 40 LCDdisplays and attracts more than 300,000 spectators. The city's Parks and Recreation Department has alreadyslashed $2.8 million from its budget. Taking away the Trail ofLights would cut $800,000 more.
"My heart broke,” said Christiane Dodillet after hearingthe idea. “It's an Austin tradition. Been here foryears."
From a team of horses to herding her first-grade class along,that tradition annually led Christiane Dodillet back to the Trailof Lights for the event’s 11-year history.
"When I drove carriages out there, there were families that wereraised doing that,” she said. “They brought their kidsto do that, their grandkids to do that. It's just an Austintradition. I think, if the public knew, then maybe people wouldband together and try to figure something out."
The public already gave more than $50,000 to park each holidayseason, plus another $9,000 in donations. But, for an event thattakes two months to put up and another two to take down, the cityis still considering pulling the plug.
"The cost kept rising,” said Austin Parks and RecreationDirector Sarah Hensley. “And we couldn't get enough sponsorsto cover it."
Over the event's tenure, the economy sank. As the city cut itsbudget, so did those corporate sponsors.
"You know, we don't want to be the 'Grinch that stoleChristmas,'” said Hensley. “Let's see if we can't getthe community who benefits from this to step up."
The 10-day event also racks up plenty of overtime for herdepartment, which has a freeze on all current vacancies.Free-family fun might end with an idea to charge people toenter.
"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 manykids I had with me."
Worth the cost, Dodillet said. For some, this is Christmas. Shedreads the day her kids find out.
The city wants public input before it makes a final decision inSeptember. The issue is on the agenda for next week's Parks andRecreation Board meeting. It starts at 6 p.m. on May 26, atthe Austin City Hall’s Boards and Commissions Room. Themeeting is open to the public.
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