As Jefferson County remains in a state of emergency, with mask requirements, people are looking for things to do outside, and safely. One such event, is called Winter Wonderlights at Zoo New York in Watertown. And while there are a lot of displays that will bring smiles to faces one display — honoring a local teenager — will leave you feeling every emotion possible.
“So this is our second annual Winter Wonderlights. Right outside of our guest services building, this is the first view that you see,” Zoo New York Marketing Director Joshua Baughn said, showing off the sights.
Zoo New York, Watertown’s zoo at Thompson Park, is bringing the flair for the holiday season.
“A lot of our initial concept was that we wanted to give somebody the opportunity to get out in the winter time, when our attendance is a little bit lower, so we thought, why not decorate the zoo? We reached out to the company that helps put on Lights on the Lake and their quote was just a little out of our price range, so we said, let’s do a grassroots, homegrown version of it,” Baughn said.
Baughn certainly is not the only one.
The first couple of weekends of Winter Wonderlights, have brought in tons of people and as the county remains in a state of emergency due to COVID, it’s actually the perfect family night. It’s a chance to get out of the house and have some fun.
“We didn’t want people to have wave two of cabin fever with COVID,” Baughn said. “So we wanted to give people a safe way to get out, socially distance, wear a mask if they wanted to, and maybe help keep their face warm and help with that social distancing stuff, but just get out here an enjoy themselves.”
The entire zoo lit up from the entrance and exit, to all the exhibits and even the butterfly house. It’s bringing smiles to many faces, but one display in particular will leave you feeling every emotion possible.
“Being from Watertown, the Carthage community and the Watertown community can seem so far away but we are only 15 to 20 minutes away. This is just to let them know and give them the opportunity to continue to let Tyler’s memory live on,” Baughn said of the display honoring Tyler Christman.
It’s a stunning tribute, right in the center of it all, to Tyler Christman, the young Carthage student who passed away this fall after a junior varsity football game. It’s one of the grassroots displays put together by Tyler’s family and friends.
“This obviously brings a lot of emotion, the time and everything that went into this,” said Stacy Dorchester, a family friend who helped build the display. “We had some amazing families that put in their time to just help other people grieve and this is a great way to come and remember him. I hope it’s something we can do for years to come to help keep his memory alive.”
A displays that also shows people just what kind of hero Tyler is after life, his involvement with Donate Life, his organs helping save the lives of four people.
“Again, it’s just a big thing. Those families that got their life saving organ from Tyler, are now having a happy Christmas,” Dorchester said.
It’s amazing the impact that one young man could have on so many. The hope is through that and with this display, that we can all happily smile this Christmas.
You can check the zoo’s website to see the Wonderlights schedule. The zoo hopes to make this an annual community event.