The sixth annual Gardens Aglow display at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens will be a drive-thru event this year. Visitors must remain in their cars while touring the display to keep people socially distanced. Photo courtesy of the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens

BOOTHBAY — Visitors to the sixth annual Gardens event at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens will have a warmer way to view the dazzling holiday display this year. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the gardens shifted to become a drive-thru attraction.

Rather than strolling through the gardens, visitors must remain in their cars and drive through the light display in order to keep people at a safe distance from one another. The route is about a mile long and takes roughly 30 minutes to complete.

Kris Folsom, director of marketing for the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, said the nonprofit felt it was important to find a way to make Gardens Aglow happen amid the pandemic, if only to lift spirits and instill a sense of normalcy.

“For the past six years, people have told us that Gardens Aglow has become one of their family traditions,” said Folsom. “That’s important – especially this year. We are missing so many opportunities for celebration this year.”

Gardens Aglow, which runs from Nov. 21 to Jan. 2, brings in about half the organization’s annual visitors and “is a huge contributor to our annual budget,” said Folsom. In 2018, 113,000 people visited Gardens Aglow. That count dipped to 100,000 last year after the botanical gardens reduced the nightly capacity in response to feedback that the gardens were too crowded.

Although Gardens Aglow is popular with locals and tourists alike, Folsom said she knows it will be less profitable for the Boothbay-based nonprofit this year.

“We set the price per car rather than per person, and that’s significantly less than admission would be in a typical year,” said Folsom. Tickets are $40 per car for non-members and $30 for members, regardless of how many people are in the vehicle.

The Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens will charge visitors admission per car rather than per person this year. As a result, the nonprofit predicts the popular attraction will bring in less revenue than a typical year.  Photo courtesy of the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens

Cars are admitted through the display in 15-minute increments and only so many people can go through the gardens at a time, further staunching the amount of revenue the gardens can generate.

Folsom said the nonprofit hopes making Gardens Aglow a drive-thru attraction will make it more accessible to people who weren’t able to visit in the past due to mobility issues.

“People who may have been uncertain about walking at night, or concerned about the wintery weather, can now visit Gardens Aglow from the comfort and warmth of their vehicles,” said Folsom.

Betty Maddocks, owner of Janson’s Clothing Store in Boothbay Harbor, said she’s thankful the botanical gardens found a way to put on Gardens Aglow despite the COVID-19 pandemic because it generates business for local small businesses.

“The towns that are on the way coming to the gardens get residual business from Gardens Aglow,” said Maddocks. “In 2018, they had a huge turnout for Gardens Aglow and we saw that in town too. It’s a trickle-down effect for the area.”

While no one knows how many people will visit Gardens Aglow, Maddocks said she’s not worried because “we’ll have something, and that’s what matters.”

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