ALBUQUERQUE, NM (KRQE) – The River of Lights draws large crowds with long lines of families meandering through the ABQ BioPark Botanical Gardens. In 2017 the event set a record with more than 128,000 guests.
In 1997, the first year of the River of Lights attracted 32,000 visitors. At the time, they only owned 30 sculptures that were rented from a company in New York. “The first ones we rented were like shaky plastic and they had big lightbulbs like sparkling lightbulbs, so it was just completely different,” said Julie Miller Rugg, executive director of the New Mexico BioPark Society.
The sculptures we rented weren’t cheap. “They paid about $ 80,000 to bring them in, which is a lot of money considering they were selling tickets for $ 3 for adults and $ 1.50 for kids,” Rugg said. Her profit was also only $ 12,000.
Two years later, the current managing director of the BioPark Society, Rugg, asked the big question that would change everything. “We started to say, you know … we should be able to do this, why are we renting. Can’t we make these in-house? Isn’t that something we can do? “
With a little inspiration, the crew made around 50 sculptures in-house over the next year. “The flat saguaro cactus was the very first sculpture we made,” says Rugg. “We leave it out there, even if it’s not the best, it makes us happy because it was the first.”
Now, more than 20 years later, the River of Lights is New Mexico’s largest light show. It’s also one of the BioPark Society’s largest fundraisers and one of the most popular events in Albuquerque.
The New Mexico BioPark Society and its team hope that as technology advances, so will the displays. In the future, they expect to add more lighting effects, including more projections and maybe even interactive lighting.
The River of Lights runs from November 27th to December 30th (closed on December 24th and 25th). Tickets are only sold in limited numbers and only online.