December festival showcases park improvements to thousands

Houston, TX — To make parks thrive year-round, you have to use each season to your advantage. That’s how, throughout December, the nonprofit Friends of Hermann Park (FHP) drew thousands of visitors to Houston’s flagship park well into the night.

The main attraction was a month-long festival called “Holiday Lights in Hermann Park,” put together by four partners: FHP, a local event planning outfit named Eventions, the Houston Parks and Recreation Department (HPARD), and H-E-B, one of the largest food retailers in the US.

“It was fascinating to see families experiencing Hermann Park in a new way–at 9 pm.”

From November 29 to December 29, the festival graced the perimeter of Hermann Park’s McGovern Lake with stunning light displays, as well as musical performances, amusement rides, and concessions.

The combination proved irresistible to Houstonians, who packed Hermann Park at a most unusual hour of the day.

“It was fascinating to see families with strollers and grandmothers out using the park, having fun, experiencing Hermann Park in a new way–at 9 pm,” said Lisa Cuccia, FHP’s community relations director.

The inspiration for the festival came from Eventions CEO Bill Stiegerwald, who approached FHP with the notion of hosting a nighttime driving tour through the park. Under FHP’s guidance, the original idea evolved into a walking tour around the newly restored and expanded McGovern Lake. H-E-B generously agreed to underwrite the enterprise, enabling the festival to be a free event, and HPARD signed on to provide equipment and security staff. Eventions handled the bulk of the logistics, lining up everybody from the electricians to the entertainment, and FHP lent vision and direction to the enterprise as a whole.

By any measure, the festival was an enormous success. Thousands of people attended on peak nights. Visitors were treated to a series of dramatic light installations, beginning with a giant, lit “Air Star” globe and a series of eight light-covered woodcut arches, followed by a dazzling walk-through tunnel of lights. Volunteers at the entrance guided people towards more installations stationed around the lake, which were interspersed with a wide assortment of diversions, including lit-up pedal-boats in motion on the lake, concessions, choral singers, and a carousel.

“What I kept hearing was ‘I had no idea Hermann Park has changed so much.'”

For many, the festival provided a first glimpse of FHP’s many restoration projects in the park, including McGovern Lake itself. “What I kept hearing was ‘I had no idea Hermann Park has changed so much,'” said Cuccia. “This was wonderfully rewarding because the work that FHP and HPARD are doing is encouraging people to come back to the park. It’s exciting to hear people noticing that significant difference.”

With world-class institutions such as Miller Outdoor Theatre, the Houston Museum of Natural Science, and the Houston Zoo located within, Hermann Park has always been well-loved. But during a period of intense use in the early 80s, maintenance failed to keep pace with the daily wear and tear on the park. FHP formed in the early 90s in response to the park’s state of disrepair. At the time, the institutions in the park were a huge draw, and the actual green and blue spaces were being “loved to death.”

Since then, construction fences have gone up and been taken down, as FHP has renovated several features in the “Heart of the Park,” a central and highly visible space that includes McGovern Lake, the Molly Ann Smith Plaza (and its four interactive fountains), and the Lake Overlook–a raised picnic lawn with limestone steps leading down to the lake. The festival reconnected many people to these areas for the first time since their renovation, showing Houstonians a new, restored Hermann Park.

The big restoration project currently underway for FHP, and the focal point of the “Heart of the Park,” is the Mary Gibbs and Jesse H. Jones Reflection Pool. The renovation of this space was the original inspiration behind the foundation of FHP. FHP, alongside its steadfast public partner HPARD, will cut the ribbon of the Jones Reflection Pool in late fall of this year.

Soon after, the second Holiday Lights in Hermann Park will get underway. Thanks to their generous, civic-minded partner H-E-B, FHP and HPARD will continue to show Houston an improved Hermann Park in spectacular fashion.

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