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Saturday, Nov 24 2012 12:39 AM

Community: CALM HolidayLights a shining tradition for local families (video)

By Matilde Ruiz

Visiting the HolidayLights at California Living Museum has become a seasonal tradition for many locals. This year is particularly special as CALM will celebrate the 10th anniversary of HolidayLights.

In the last decade, the event has helped raise funds for the zoo.

Related Info

Dates: Nov. 30 to Dec. 31 (closed Dec. 25)
Hours: 5:30 to 9 p.m.
Tickets: $6 for children 3 to 12 years old; $10 for senior citizens; $12 for adults. Free parking. Tickets can be purchased at 322-5200 or vallitix.rdln.com.
Discount: $2 off admission at the door, Monday through Thursday through Dec. 13. CALM members receive a 50 percent discount for any day of the event.
Location: 10500 Alfred Harrell Highway
Volunteers: To volunteer, contact zoo manager Lana Fain at 871-1822.

You may not have heard of Josh Barnett before, but you most likely know his work.

Barnett, a Bakersfield native, is the man behind the wonderful creations at CALM HolidayLights, decorating the grounds with millions of lights.

Since the age of 6, Barnett has had an interest for Christmas lights, even writing a letter to Santa asking for lights -- a letter Barnett's father still has today. He began decorating by his "nana's" bushes, followed by a spectacular display in his parents' front yard in high school.

Light decorating came natural to Barnett, and the passion turned into a job in 2002, with Josh Barnett's "Lightasmic." That same year, he was filmed for the NBC show, "America's Greatest Christmas Decorations."

"It has just been something I have always done and continue to be very passionate about even at age 30," said Barnett, who works on the holiday lights throughout the year.

Working with CALM has been a great experience for Barnett, he said, and that job opened the door for many more opportunities. He especially liked the positive impact HolidayLights creates for the community, one that "brings families together and ... transform(s) the night into something exciting."

"Working with CALM ... allowed me to follow my dreams of creating these larger than life experiences," he said.

Barnett shared with Bakersfield Life a little extra about himself and his work:

How do you get inspired when creating displays? The inspiration comes from different places. A lot of times I will have a small spark of an idea, and then after doing renderings and talking about it, that small idea often times turns into an entire land at a park.

How long does it take you to build a display? A display can take anywhere from a few hours to several weeks depending on its size and complexity.

What would you say has been the best display you have created and why? We started using a new technique last year that I call "filled in." Our traditional displays were silhouettes, but with this new technique, we take LEDs and fill in the entire display. These are fast becoming some of the most stunning displays we have created. This year at CALM, we have filled in the brontosaurus, tyrannosaurus rex, stegosaurus, triceratops, six flamingos and four elephants.

What was your first creation? My first creations were plywood cut-outs.

Do you attend the HolidayLights at CALM every year? Yes, my family and I attend every year.

Related Photos

HolidayLights at CALM.

CALM HolidayLights display organizer Josh Barnett.

Grayson Shepherd, left, and his buddy, Austin Wiegel, share an umbrella while it rains before the opening of HolidayLights at CALM.

"The HolidayLights at CALM has become a great family tradition," said Steve Sanders, chief of staff at Kern County Superintendent of Schools, which manages CALM. "I always like to tell folks that attendance can be a tradition to families, and the event helps support CALM year-round."

The zoo is home to about 250 rescued animals -- bears, felines, birds, reptiles and more -- that are native to California but can no longer be returned to the wild. CALM, which opened in 1983, depends on donations and the revenue from the HolidayLights to keep running throughout the year.

Donations from last year's HolidayLights, for example, helped CALM build a new exhibit for the desert bighorn sheep, which opened Nov. 15. CALM officials hope to build other exhibits with financial support.

"All the fundraisers help CALM continue to grow and thrive," Sanders said.

The seasonal attraction showcases a variety of animal displays encompassing about 2 million lights throughout the zoo; some lights are being replaced with brighter LED lights this year. The credit for these beautiful displays goes to Josh Barnett's "Lightasmic" and his team that work with CALM every year to make the event truly shine. (Read more on Barnett in the sidebar.)

Also this year, HolidayLights will use brand-new pink LED lights, and new displays including a crab reef.

Families and children can also enjoy the free carousal and the Central California Children's Railroad, which visitors can ride as many times as they'd like. While enjoying the attractions, visitors can walk through the snowy pathway.

Teen Challenge, a nonprofit rehabilitation program, will provide apple dumplings, kettle corn, apple cider and other popular treats.

CALM was voted "best attraction" in Bakersfield Life's "Best Of" poll in 2012. Last year, about 51,000 visitors attended HolidayLights -- a record for CALM. Officials are hoping that number increases this year.

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