After finding success switching its cherished Gardens Aglow lights display to a drive-thru format last year, Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens is keeping the drive-thru format for another year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens’ annual Gardens Aglow event will remain a drive-thru attraction to separate visitors during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens President and CEO Gretchen Ostherr said the decision to keep the driving format “wasn’t a decision we took lightly,” but the organization wanted to keep guests as safe as possible during the ongoing pandemic.

“Given the considerations surrounding the ongoing pandemic and the fact that we needed to decide the event’s format  nine months  in advance of its implementation, we had to consider the best way to serve our community while ensuring everyone’s safety,” said Ostherr.  “At the time, there were still capacity limits on indoor settings that would have been difficult to manage in the winter. The walking version of Gardens Aglow means thousands of people moving in and out of enclosed buildings, increasing opportunities for the virus to spread. With the rise of the delta variant, it just seemed like the safer course of action.”

Although different from the traditional walking attraction, Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens spokesperson Shannon Russo said the nonprofit found many guests liked the driving format because it opened the attraction to those with mobility limitations.

“Beyond being accessible to a wider variety of people, the driving tour is a safer format, warmer and more comfortable,” said Russo. “Last year, we received an overwhelming number of emails and Facebook messages thanking us for offering a driving tour; it allowed those for whom a walking tour wasn’t accessible, especially elderly family members and young children, the opportunity to experience Gardens Aglow.”

Although the attraction sold out last year, the number of Gardens Aglow visitors fell well beneath attendance numbers from years prior because cars are admitted through the display in 15-minute increments.

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Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens President and CEO Gretchen Ostherr said Gardens Aglow was redesigned to be “longer and more immersive” than last year. Photo courtesy of Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens

In 2020, 21,800 vehicles, or about 87,100 people, drove through the display compared to the 100,134 visitors who walked through in 2019, according to Russo.

This year, Ostherr said the organization redesigned the Gardens Aglow route to be “longer and more immersive.” She said the lights, sculptures and scenes have been moved closer to the route.

“This year’s show, its theme designed around Maine’s woods and waterways, is a fun and festive nod to nature, celebrating its importance to human health and happiness in an increasingly stressful world,” said Russo.

The display features over 650,000 energy efficient LED lights, giving the gardens a $120 energy bill for the six-week event.

Gardens Aglow runs from Nov. 20 – Jan. 1. Tickets are $40 per car for non-members and $30 for members, regardless of how many people are in the vehicle, and can be purchased on the organization’s website, mainegardens.org.


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