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HolidayLights at CALM back to dazzle another year

By the weekend after Thanksgiving, the holiday season is in full swing. Foremost among those can't-miss annual traditions is HolidayLights at CALM, which returns in its drive-thru format. 

The extravaganza, designed by Josh Barnett of Lightasmic!, who has created the displays for CALM since 2003, features a variety of themed regions and now boasts nearly 4 million lights. 

California Living Museum Director Meg Maitland said, "We've added several different displays, and added another 100 feet to our light tunnel."

In addition to a smaller, Christmas tree themed tunnel, the display includes a multicolored corridor that every vehicle passes through, experiencing a rotating light presentation.

"Along with some of our typical favorites, we've got shooting star displays and different characters. We're bringing new and exciting things this year."

Maitland said she loves the 20-foot volcano that appears to be erupting with lava, which spreads down in a bed of lights, as well as Santa workshop, which features elves hard at work. ("It's very Christmassy.")

Accompanying the dazzling light display is a soundtrack featuring songs from local band Mento Buru's EP “East Bakersfield Christmas,” including the reimagined holiday classics “Jingle Bell Rock,” “Greensleeves," “The Christmas Song," "Feliz Navidad" and "¿Dónde Está Santa Claus?," a 1958 Spanglish cha-cha-cha novelty song.

The broadcast, which guests can tune into via their car radios, also includes more information about CALM's mission and its upcoming plans.

HolidayLights, which is the zoo's biggest fundraiser, helps support CALM's Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, which provides veterinary and health care services to hundreds of injured or helpless animals each year.

It also funds improvements for enclosures for the zoo's residents and goes toward future projects. On that list is a brand-new building that will help increase animal care.

"It will double as a vet clinic and also help with any oiled wildlife that comes out way," Maitland said. "It will help animals we already have here and the ones we see every season."

Hundreds of California native animals are cared for each year by CALM staff with the primary goal being to get them back into the wild.

The new endeavor will also include a partnership with Oiled Wildlife Care Network and UC Davis to plan for aiding wildlife in case of an oil spill.

"We’re one of the first inland facilities. Day to day, oil companies do a good job on safety. We’re here to act as a hub" if the need arises.

Smaller improvements on tap include renovations in the reptile house (new artwork and skylights) and a facelift for the children’s zoo.

"There's new fencing and housing for some animals," Maitland said. "In the spring or summer we want to incorporate new petting zoo animals as well."

Maitland said along with supporting CALM by attending the event, guests can also help out by serving as volunteers, which are needed nightly to help direct traffic and keep things running smoothly. Anyone (16 and older) who volunteers will receive a free pass for the event for each night worked. Visit calmzoo.org and click on the volunteer tab to sign up.

Stefani Dias can be reached at 661-395-7488. Follow her on Twitter at @realstefanidias.

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