Area lovers of high-quality Christmas light shows no longer have to drive to Bristol or Winston-Salem. With the addition of High County Lights in Galax’s Felt Park, such a show now exists in the Twin Counties. And that’s not even the best part – it’s FREE!
“I pull a lot from the North Carolina Triad – Winston-Salem, Greensboro and High Point – up here, and with a lot of these people coming into town, these businesses can cash in,” said owner William Bottomley, a photojournalist for television station WXII-12. “There will be a lot of people in town, thousands of people that have never been around.”
High Country Lights is an award-winning animated light show featuring thousands of LED lights choreographed to your favorite Christmas tunes on 96.5 FM. This free light show can be seen nightly from 6-11 p.m. in Felts Park from Thanksgiving night through January 2, 2016. Basically, High Country Lights is an animated light show set to an hour of Christmas music.
“You flip your radio on and you hear the music through your radio in your car as the lights are blinking to the beat. It’s all in sync together,” Bottomley said. “There’s three LEDs in each little, tiny light and that means I can make it any color and do anything. When you put a bunch of them together, I have five LED panels, you can make it do anything – change color, change patterns. I have talking reindeer, singing animated characters, there is a lot. My ultimate goal is to make it family fun for anyone from a baby to grandma.”
Countless hours are logged throughout the year to make sure High Country Lights is an incredible experience for all ages. It’s a project that requires year-round planning and preparation, then execution and maintenance during the season. Each show takes about an hour and features 27 songs ranging from newer children’s songs from Polar Express to the traditional Christmas favorites. An animated Rudolph the Reindeer talks during the show and gives several announcements as well.
“When you listen you will see Rudy talking, it is going to sound like a real radio station playing music. If you drive up in the park even when the lights are not on, it is still playing music,” Bottomley said. “The goal is to make it sound like a real radio station with the lights blinking to the radio station. That’s to make it a very unique experience. The kids of all ages love it. They come back more than once and that is all I want. As long as I have been doing it, I have never been compensated, but I have a lot of blood, sweat and tears wrapped up in it.”
Bottomley, from Alleghany County, N.C., originally operated the holiday light show at his home before moving it to the fire department in Ennice, N.C. He continued to operate the show there for five years and “it just kept growing to what you see now.”
The idea to bring the show to Galax started last December with a simple conversation between Bottomley and Galax Mayor C.M. Mitchell. Soon, City Manager Keith Barker and Dave Nelson got involved and “the rest is history,” Bottomley said.
Earlier this year, High Country Lights and the City of Galax reached an agreement to put the show on in Galax’s Felts Park. Neither party will be compensated, but the show is expected to bring many holiday season visitors to the area. Bottomley couldn’t be happier about the agreement.
“I’d already had long-term plans to move it to a larger area, especially a populated area, because when people drive a long distance the want to use a restroom, get something to drink and something to eat,” Bottomley said. “You couldn’t do it where it was at the fire department, but here, you have the best of all worlds.”
Bottomley said he has been doing an animated light show for 10 years now, but he’s been building his collection for close to 25 years. He said his passion for Christmas lights began as a young child helping his father staple lights around the front porch.
“Somehow I guess one of the staples got in me and then that bug must have transferred to me,” Bottomley said.
He has no idea how much money he has tied up into the lights and technology involved with it because many of the items were custom-made. Many of the poles and trees and associated items were built by him, while he said he got a great bargain on Santa’s Castle, the reindeer and other animated characters.
“There is thousands of man hours and thousands of dollars involved in this,” Bottomley said. “There are three things I don’t know – I don’t know how much power it pulls because it is solely on LEDs, which conserve a lot of electricity. Number two, I don’t know how much money I have invested in it, and number three, I don’t know how many lights I have.”
The Blue Ridge Veterans Memorial group will be selling hot chocolate at the show while the Galax Fire Department will be collecting money on weekends for the Community Christmas Chest, Bottomley said. In the past, peak times for the show have typically been between 6:30 and 8:30 p.m., with weekend viewing being “really heavy.”
For more information, log on to www.highcountrylights.com or find High Country Lights on Facebook.
“I want to remind folks it is a park and watch show. It’s not a drive-through or walk-through,” Bottomley said. “We have ropes up. You can’t walk in there. Stay out and take your pictures along the walkway and trail. Post them. I encourage that. Just don’t walk in there because it’s not safe.”
Allen Worrell can be reached at (276) 779-4062 or on [email protected]