Festival of Lights

Shore Acres State Park becomes an illuminated holiday wonderland

Garden House (top) and the lights of the koi pond (bottom). Photos courtesy Friends of Shore Acres.

You won’t find any lights decorating the exterior of David and Shirley Bridgham’s Coos Bay home this December. That’s because the couple is far too burnt out from months of spreading holiday cheer throughout the decadent formal gardens of Shore Acres State Park for its annual Holiday Lights event.

For 27 years, the couple has worked to transform the park into an illuminated wonderland. “We started with 6,000 little white lights,” Shirley Bridgham says. “And now we’re up to 300,000.”

This year, LED lights will cover almost every inch of the park’s flora and can even be seen underwater in the form of glowing Koi Carp. Rather than the traditional Santa and reindeer light displays, the park harnesses a marine theme, celebrating the sea lions, whales, frogs and fish that can be found near its shores. The Bridghams also open up the park’s traditional garden house for refreshments as well as feature entertainment on the park’s pavilion. Last year the park attracted close to 50,000 visitors from at least 20 different countries and almost every state, making it a successful holiday hotspot.

“I’ll tell you what charges my batteries every year,” David Bridgham says. “We have a station near the door where they can sign a guest book, and I love reading those comments.” One visitor from Alaska writes: “I feel like I’m in a Christmas movie!” while another from Texas simply writes: “Speechless.” David Bridgham says that the feedback from the park’s visitors is what makes it all worthwhile.

But like every heartwarming holiday story, the true miracle of Holiday Lights lies in the powerful community effort that binds the small coastal town together. Every year, 60 to 70 volunteers from Coos Bay help Shirley and David Bridgham with everything from the planning to the actual stringing of lights. “There is a good measure of community envy from people outside our area who come see it,” David Bridgham says.

He says that many visitors wonder how the rural and somewhat isolated community is capable of such a collaborative effort that draws in thousands of visitors every year. “The community has actually done this,” he says. “It’s unique.”

Just as lights have become a staple for the holiday season everywhere, so has Holiday Lights for the Bridghams and the Coos Bay community. And at 68 and 75 years old, David and Shirley aren’t ready to give up their tradition just yet.  Shirley Bridgham says people often ask them if they have an exit plan. “We’re not anxious to quit,” she says. “We’re having too much fun.”

Holiday Lights is a community event sponsored by Friends of Shore Acres, Inc. in partnership with Shore Acres State Park. Holiday Lights runs Thanksgiving through New Year’s Eve, 4 to 9:30 pm every night, $5 parking fee. Shore Acres State Park is located on the Cape Arago Highway, 13 miles southwest of Coos Bay/North Bend and U. S. Highway 101. www.shoreacres.net.

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