Assiniboine Park Zoo opening COVID-safe lights exhibit this weekend

The Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg will open its lights exhibit to the public starting this weekend, the Assiniboine Park Conservancy announced Thursday.

Typically, the Zoo Lights display runs during the holiday season in December, but those plans were put on hold when the province’s red-level pandemic restrictions came into effect last November.

The zoo temporarily closed to the public in mid-November, but reopened on Jan. 30. It’s now received approval from public health officials to proceed with a COVID-safe version of Zoo Lights, the release says.

“A lot of time and effort went into preparing for Zoo Lights and, while the timing has changed, we are thrilled to be in a position to invite visitors to enjoy these stunning light displays,” Bruce Keats, the conservancy’s chief operations officer, said in the release.

The installations, which are made up of nearly 1.5 million light bulbs, are spread throughout the zoo on a pathway that spans two kilometres. This year, live music and “other programming that may encourage guests to gather” have been eliminated, and almost everything is entirely outdoors, the release says.

All COVID-19 protocols in place for daytime zoo operations — such as the requirement to wear masks in any indoor spaces — will be followed for the evening light exhibit, the release says.

As well, the Zoo Lights site will be expanded by 25 per cent to include a larger part of the zoo, the conservancy says, and there will be a one-way path to navigate through the exhibit.

Entrances and exits will be separate, and attendees will be streamed through the entrance to reduce congestion.

People looking to visit Zoo Lights will also have to purchase their tickets in advance, and will be given specific entrance times to control capacity, the release says. All attendees need a ticket, but infants and toddlers up to two years old get in for free.

Food and beverage service will be available at the zoo’s Tundra Grill Restaurant and Winston’s concession.

Zoo Lights will run from Saturday, Feb. 20 through Sunday, March 28.

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