The Muskogee Garden of Lights display has been free for 25 years, but this year, for the first time, visitors will have to pay for admission.
The parks and recreation director says he knows there’s a lot of mixed opinions about the new admissions fee, but he says that every penny they make will be invested right back into the event to keep it going for years to come.
By Thanksgiving, Honor Heights Park will be transformed into a winter wonderland.
“It’s such a great experience for everyone,” said Allison Gonzalez, a Garden of Lights visitor.
Garden of Lights has been a Muskogee tradition for 26 years. It’s always been free to attend with the option to donate at the end, but this year each car will pay $5 to drive through.
“All the money they put into the lights, and I’m sure the electricity to run the lights, I think five dollars is really reasonable,” Gonzalez said.
“The Garden of Lights is worth five dollars,” said Parks and Recreation Director Mark Wilkerson.
Fans of the display wasted no time in voicing their opinions on social media, for and against the fee.
“I don’t think it’s any more than what I was personally giving before,” said Gonzalez.
Some others called the fee a “slap in the face” and saying that now “some kids will never be able to see this.”
Wilkerson says, contrary to what some on social media might say, the city doesn’t profit from the Garden of Lights.
“No, we do not make money off of the Garden of Lights,” said Wilkerson. “The fact is, we average less than a dollar a car through donations.”
Wilkerson says around 65,000 cars came through last year to see the display that takes months to complete.
He says he wants to assure the community that the money from admissions will go straight to the park and the lights display.
“The light show is a result of the donations,” he said. “If we have more revenues from an admission, the light show’s only going to get better.”
The Garden of Lights will open on Thanksgiving night.
The admission fee is $5 per car and $10 for oversized vehicles, such as vans or buses. However, Monday nights are free.