And They Will Know Us by our Trail of Lights

I don't hate everything that happens in Zilker Park.

Take, for example, Austin's Trail of Lights, one last bastion of my childhood and an Austin I used to know. Our family would scurry down there from our house up the hill and I'd write my annual letter to Santa Claus asking for a pony (although something must have been messed up with Austin's postal service to the Pole because I never got one). I still try to make it to the Trail each year, and have only missed one or two years in my life.

Now, the City is arguing that they lose $500,000 a year on it "partly because it has been free to the public." This leads to their near-sighted solution: Let a private company take over and -- get this -- charge for it. Even worse -- it's the same company, Roadway Productions, that runs Batfest, a relatively new event in its 5th year that has been riddled with organizational issues and bad-will from local businesses in the past.

Why doesn't the City keep the Trail of Lights and, I don't know, charge for it? Or ask for suggested donations? Or start a program that will generate admissions fees from the thousands of people who walk through the park during the event, cash in hand. Call it "Pay a Kid's Way" or "Lights for Little Ones" or something catchy that the City would no doubt have to pay an expensive marketing consultant to come up with (I'm available and I won't even charge you).

Someone like me, who might not donate by mail or phone, would show up at the Trail of Lights full of holiday spirit, pay my admission and drop an extra $5 for another person or child, or an extra $20 to pay the way for a family of four. The City can then give out vouchers to schools and parents.

The absolute last thing that should happen is another C3-type takeover of this institution or allow the tradition to go the way of the Aqua Fest. We'll end up with Gold Packages that start at $75 and include carriage rides through the park, t-shirts and a free hot chocolate at the end. Instead of local dance troupes and school choirs, Miley Cyrus will end up taking the stage.

All of this, while a lovely thought, is not necessary and hasn't been for the last twenty five years of my life. You only need one good spin under the tree, a magical stroll through our public park and a good, warm, hat. Oh, and that pony I'm still waiting on.

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