WU-Tech carpentry students help build winter wonderland at the Topeka zoo


Alijah McCracken

Light the way: The winding paths through the zoo are adorned with all manner of decorative lights. They ensure that guests don’t get lost.

Washburn Tech students constructed three cottages for the Topeka Zoo \holiday lights display.

The project, referred to as Zoo Lights, was made possible by over a dozen sponsors and volunteers.

Zoo Lights covers much of the zoo with glowing light displays. Some of the displays at the zoo have colorful names like “Candy Cane Lane” and “Sweets & Treats,” which are also some of the first exhibits that guests see when they arrive.

“We turned over one hundred trees into displays for this event,” said Fawn Moser, Manager of Zoo Operations. “About two-thirds of the zoo is covered with light displays that are broken up into zones.”

The Zoo Lights project has been a concept for close to two years, according to Moser. Last December, it transitioned from dream to reality. Zoo officials worked hard to gather together a committee made up of volunteers and sponsors, referred to by the zoo as their “elves,” alongside existing zoo partners.

A large group of carpenters, metalworkers and fabricators were needed to get the light displays up and create some of the larger pieces, such as the three cottages provided by WU-Tech. David Praiswater, a Carpentry Instructor at WU-Tech, explained how he enjoyed directing his class in their efforts to help the zoo create it’s holiday attraction.

“Our role was to build three of the five buildings in the Christmas village,” Praiswater said. “We did the store, Santa’s house and the elf house and the tower on the church.”

Guests who are hoping to catch a glimpse of some of the zoo’s animals while they are there will be disappointed as many of them will be asleep or indoors. The main attraction after 5 p.m. will be the lights with many of the buildings and other areas being closed. The new garden area is an exception, as it will still be open to guests.

Other attractions at the zoo include an ocean-inspired area which features mostly teal, blue and white colors and a variety of other undersea life which then takes guests to another area inspired by the Northern Lights. The holiday village, located near the back of the zoo in areas usually off-limits to guests, is where the efforts of WU-Tech carpentry students are on display.

Santa will also make an appearance every night at the zoo. He will be sitting in his chair or at the fire with a row of boxes between him and guests to maintain COVID-19 restrictions.

To partake in the Zoo Lights event, guests will need to purchase tickets in advance which can be found here along with other relevant information. The tickets are sold in 30-minute intervals. Ticket prices are $6 for children and $8 for adults with a special discount available for those who bring in a canned food item. Each guest can bring a can of food to the zoo and receive a $1 discount. A QR code outside of the zoo’s main gate allows guests to purchase tickets if they didn’t do so prior and if there is a chance for an opening.

A maximum of 100 guests are allowed in at any given time. All guests over 6 years old must wear a mask to enter Zoo Lights. Guests are allowed to roam the zoo and explore the attractions for as long as they wish.

Zoo Lights is open from now till Dec. 24 and will open again from Dec. 26 to Dec. 30. It is open Sunday through Thursday from 5 – 9 p.m. On Fridays and Saturdays, Zoo Lights is open from 5 – 10:00 p.m.

Major sponsors for this project included Evergy, HME, Inc., Schwerdt Design Group, PEC, KBS, ABC Supply, PKMR Engineers, Torgeson Electric, TARC, Ernest-Spencer, Highland Millshop, Conroy Contractors, Inc., JF McGivern Inc, Certus, Schmidtlein Excavating, Bahm Demolition, KS Sand & Concrete, Frontier Self Storage, Zoo Docents and volunteers plus Visit Topeka.

Edited by Abbie Barth