The night was clear after days of rain. Bundled up against the cold, 4-year-old Solaris Tack offered her rave review of a new-this-year holiday light display at Evergreen Arboretum and Gardens.
What did she like? “Everything!” the little girl said.
Her family’s stroll along an illuminated pathway — past bearded gnomes fashioned from trees, wooden Santas conveying safety messages, and bushes aglow with netted lights — was clearly a hit.
Solaris, her parents Chris and Malissa Tack, and her 2-year-old sister, Leyla, stood Tuesday night near the brightly lit entry columns and arbor in the arboretum at Everett’s American Legion Memorial Park. They were among young families and other visitors to Wintertide Lights, hosted by the Evergreen Arboretum and Gardens with support from sponsors.
The festive display is open dusk to 8 p.m. through Thursday, New Year’s Eve, and it’s free.
“It was very fun to do,” said Eileen Simmons, president of Evergreen Arboretum and Gardens, an all-volunteer non-profit organization. With fundraising already underway for Wintertide Lights 2021, “we keep hoping to make it better,” said Simmons, who retired in 2017 as director of the Everett Public Library.
Renee Greenleaf, the group’s marketing coordinator, said turnout has been excellent for this first-ever event, which opened Dec. 1. She said the arboretum group was approached by Tyler Chism, tourism and events coordinator with the city, about providing a seasonal outing for families.
Coronavirus restrictions have greatly limited other options. With families cooped up and movie theaters and other destinations closed, a special place to go outside might even be called a lifesaver — especially in these days after Christmas.
“Our board has long wanted to offer holiday walks, and with all that’s gone on this year it seemed like a very happy, hopeful thing to do,” Simmons said in a statement earlier this month. “Parents, seniors, all ages really, have had a rough time navigating this year,” she said. “It’s part of our mission to be inspirational and accessible.”
The handcrafted Santas, made by arboretum board member Tom Easley, include messages reminding walkers to wear masks and keep their distance. Tuesday’s visitors heeded those guidelines. Rules don’t get in the way of the experience. It’s a short, peaceful, non-commercial walk through a place made magical by gardeners who lovingly tend it throughout the year.
The arboretum group didn’t do it alone. While volunteers decorated low-level plantings, the group hired a professional to string lights on the trees. High-Strung Christmas Lights, a local business run by Riley Poor, did that work.
A number of sponsors and donations by arboretum members covered this year’s costs, and the group is now working to raise about $5,000 for Wintertide Lights 2021. Among this year’s sponsors were Lamoureux Real Estate, Natural Systems Design, Newland Construction and Snohomish County Master Gardeners.
The Giving Tuesday fundraiser coincided with the Dec. 1 opening. Greenleaf said the group has already collected about three-quarters of the money needed for next year’s event. According to Simmons, the arboretum group raises about $25,000 annually, largely from plant sales, “to put into the gardens.” And “tons of volunteer hours” go into beautifying and maintaining the arboretum, she said.
“It’s particularly challenging with the pandemic and the city of Everett’s financial situation,” Simmons said. The group uses a horticultural classroom in an old portable building at the site, and hopes that access continues. Greenleaf and Simmons said the city plans to rent out its greenhouse space at the park. Everett’s budget cuts last spring ended the city’s flower program.
Wintertide Lights has been a gift when so many are struggling. Simmons said one goal of the group is to increase awareness of the arboretum, “to make it known to people.” Along with its Master Gardener Demonstration Garden, Japanese Maple Grove, Northwest Native Plant Trail and other horticultural displays, the arboretum is also an outdoor art museum. Its sculpture collection is wonderful.
For a month, it has become a wintry world of light and loveliness.
“It’s really cool. We went around and around,” said Rachel Douglass. Her 5-year-old daughter, Evelynn, suggested I join them for one more loop to take in the lights.
“This is so beautiful,” said Everett’s Michael Crehan, who walked the path Tuesday night with his wife, Sheila.
“It has been such a labor of love,” said Greenleaf. She credited Simmons and Hap Wertheimer, a past president of the arboretum group, as the project’s “principal elves.” She spoke of the children she saw delighting in the sparkle of gardens by night.
“It did exactly what we wanted it to do,” Greenleaf said.
Julie Muhlstein: firstname.lastname@example.org
Wintertide Lights, a free walk-through display, is open dusk to 8 p.m. nightly through New Year’s Eve Thursday at Evergreen Arboretum and Gardens, in Everett’s American Legion Memorial Park, 145 Alverson Blvd. Groups should be smaller than five people, with visitors wearing masks and keeping socially distanced. A bin to add to the city of Everett’s canned food drive is at the site.
Learn about the arboretum at www.evergreenarboretum.com.
Donations to support Wintertide Lights 2021 may be made by choosing “Family Fun Events” at: www.evergreenarboretum.com/online-donations.