Runtex strives to bring Austin's Trail of Lights back to former glory

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Lighting technician Clay Eads arranges part the Trail of Lights display in 2008, the last year the event was fully operational. Lack of funding inhibited the event in 2009 before it was phased out completely in 2010 and 2011.

Photo Credit: May-Ying Lam | Daily Texan Staff

Austin’s beloved holiday tradition, the Trail of Lights, will return this December after a two-year hiatus due to lack of funding.

The Trail of Lights, an event held every December in Zilker Park since 1967, will be returning this year thanks to a partnership between the City of Austin and the RunTex Foundation. An elaborate display of lights set up along the park’s running trail leads visitors to the Zilker Holiday Tree, which is one of Austin’s moonlight towers decorated with 39 strands of lights to form the 155-foot tree structure, according to the city of Austin’s website. City budget cuts made it impossible to support the event last year, and RunTex looks forward to being part of bringing it back, said founder and CEO Paul Carrozza.

“We’ll be working in collaboration with the city, finding local sponsors and having it benefit local charities like our normal model,” Carrozza said.

The trail was canceled again in 2011, even after attempts to find other marketing companies to raise money for the event.

“There was a company called [BrightBlue Marketing, Inc.] that had a contract for last year,” Carrozza said. “They weren’t able to raise the funds necessary to make the full Trail of Lights happen, and so we started the conversation that if it did become available, we’d be interested in taking it on as well.”

Carrozza said the RunTex Foundation plans to bring back many elements of the trail that were lost in the years leading up to its cancellation, including the Trail of Lights 5K, horse and carriage rides and a parade for city VIPs and sponsors.

“Our initial goal is to bring it back to the level it was at in 2007 or 2008, where it was the full Trail of Lights,” Carrozza said.

The trail has been free to the public in past years, which the RunTex Foundation hopes to continue this year, he said.

“If the council approves the final negotiation of the contract, we will go into fundraising mode to create the dollars from the community so that it’s free to the citizens of Austin,” Carrozza said.

Carrozza said the RunTex Foundation plans to continue funding the trail in future years in honor of its tradition and importance in the community.

“It was one of the Austin traditions that we participated in as a family and as a company,” Carrozza said. “It was one of those things where we just felt strongly about being part of a team that brings it back. We want to bring it back and keep it going.”

The cancellation of the trail in 2010 and 2011 was especially disappointing to Austin natives, said Plan II sophomore Mary Bryce.

“When [the trail] was canceled, I was absolutely crestfallen,” Bryce said. “I’m overjoyed that it’s coming back. The tree is my favorite.”

Printed on Tuesday, February 28, 2012 as: Trail of Lights schedule a comeback