Bright nights, holiday lights at Shore Acres Gardens




By Shaylen Crook | Reporter

The lights were a test.

A test to see how people would react.

“It started as an experiment to see if people would come,” Shirley Bridgham, co-founder of Friends of Shore Acres Inc., said.

The experiment worked and brought in hundreds of people. Since the winter of 1987, when the experiment started, the turnout has increased each year.

And thus, the annual Shore Acres Holiday Lights began.

Shore Acres became a state park in 1942 after being a private estate to the city of North Bend’s founder, Louis J. Simpson. It served as a refuge to troops guarding the coast during World War II. After the war ended, the state started a program to rehabilitate Shore Acres and make the gardens what they are today.

The first holiday lights started with only 6,000 lights, one Christmas tree and the decorated garden house. Today, the light display has grown to include over 300,000 lights, almost 50 lighted sculptures and 26 decorated Christmas trees with around 50,000 visitors each year.

“We just continue to make it better,” Bridgham said.

Friends of Shore Acres Inc. started the lights. They are a non-profit organization that participates in “Interpretive, Educational and Physical Development Programs with Sunset Bay State Park District.” The organization initially wanted to display year-round nightly garden lights, but realized it was not practical due to the increase in daylight during the summer months. Instead, the organization decided to focus on holiday lighting.

“We wanted to do something that was not done anywhere else,” Bridgham said.

Bridgham, a 1956 MHS graduate, is one of the main volunteers of Friends of Shore Acres Inc. She designs and makes all the brochures, posters and publications for Shore Acres, but her main duty is to coordinate the holiday lights with her husband, David Bridgham.

“We love the park,” Bridgham said. “Everyone has to have a passion for something, and this is ours.”

Bridgham coordinates up to 1,500 volunteers who help make the event possible. The volunteers include teams, programs and groups, such as the Marshfield ASB, who serve the cookies and cider in the garden house. The volunteers also include manual laborers who help put up and take down the lights, groups who provide the entertainment and all members of Friends of Shore Acres Inc.

Every year, new creations are added to the light display. In 2011, a hummingbird sculpture was revealed, while this year the park is debuting a display of a coy carp, which will be lit up at the bottom of the pond.

“There is usually something new each year,” Bridgham said.

Marshfield students and staff often get involved in the holiday festivities as volunteers or visitors.

English teacher Kelly Haut saw the lights for the first time last year. Originally from Michigan, Haut had never heard of the holiday lights before moving to Coos Bay last year. She learned of the lights through her friends who work as park rangers. She enjoyed them particularly because she went with her family.

“I thought they were lovely,” Haut said. “Especially to go as a family.”

The Montiels also regularly visit the lights. Spanish teacher Floyd Montiel said his family enjoys going to Shore Acres and makes an effort to go every year. He likes the event especially because of the cookies and cider.

“It’s a nice family, traditional family thing to do,” Montiel said. “It gets you into the holiday mood.”

Senior Alex Heinrich also thinks the lights help the holiday spirit. Heinrich visits the lights as a tradition, and likes to photograph them with his brother. He believes the chilly temperature makes the lights more enjoyable.

“It gives it a more wintery atmosphere,” Heinrich said.

The Shore Acres Holiday Lights are displayed every evening from Thanksgiving night to New Year’s Eve from 4-9:30 p.m.

“We just want people to be amazed,” Bridgham said. “And they always are.”