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Casey Christie / The Californian

Grayson Shepherd, left, and his buddy, Austin Wiegel, share an umbrella in the rain during the Holiday Lights at CALM in 2010.

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Casey Christie / The Californian

A reflection of the Jack in the Box is seen in the creek that runs through CALM at the 2011 event.

For those not rushing off to score Black Friday deals, now is the time to plan some holiday family fun. Likely near the top of your list is Holiday Lights at California Living Museum, which returns today for its 11th year.

The presentation of more than 2 million lights, designed by Josh Barnett's Lightasmic!, has evolved this year with new displays, including a hands-on attraction for children.

"We have an interactive display," said Steve Sanders, Kern County Superintendent of Schools chief of staff and CALM Foundation board member. "It's a big elephant broken up in eight sections. They get to choose what color each section is.

"We always try to add new displays and new LED lights that will make the park even brighter. (This year), there is a new lighthouse. We have a pond at CALM, and it's in that area. And a new Statue of Liberty display that will be out by the train."

Along with upgrading the lights to LED, the crew has been working to enhance older displays.

"They've also been filling in lights, to fill in the body of it. (For example) we've always had a big whale, and now he's filled in and it stands out that much more."

Sanders said Holiday Lights, which runs through Dec. 31, draws a growing mix of new and repeat visitors each year.

"It has become a family tradition. It's exciting to see. I think they're bringing new friends and family. More and more, we're seeing people from out of Bakersfield who have heard of it.

"We had just under 58,000 people last year, which was a record. We continue to grow every year. It would be nice (this year) to hit that 60,000 people mark."

Last year's event netted $250,000 for CALM, also up from the previous year. Sanders said funds have allowed the zoo to finish work on its desert bighorn sheep and shorebirds exhibits, and to retrofit an exhibit for a beaver partnership with the San Diego Zoo.

Some funds are also earmarked for new developments at CALM.

"We're actually doing some upgrades, adding wireless, so the park will be wireless for visitors. We're in the middle of a new project to build new informational signs.

"The other exciting thing we're looking at is a challenge course and zip line. We're planning, in the design stages. We're looking at a low course and high course -- something kids can do and one for adults and teens for team building ... for companies, for sports teams and church groups."

Sanders said the main considerations are location and cost. Once those are finalized, the additions could be open by the middle of next year.

"Our goal is to open something next spring or summer. We started to work with a company. The construction on those is pretty quick."

With new plans and old favorites, Sanders said he's looking forward to kicking off another Holiday Lights season.

"My favorite part is seeing that it has become a family event. Watching multiple generations either seeing it for the first time or returning for another trip and just seeing the smiles and laughter."