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Arboretum to light winter night sky with new event

The Morton Arboretum will host Illumination: Tree Lights at The Morton Arboretum from Nov. 22 to Jan. 4.
The Morton Arboretum will host Illumination: Tree Lights at The Morton Arboretum from Nov. 22 to Jan. 4.

LISLE – This winter, a mile-long trail of trees will permeate the night sky with vibrant lights that residents can walk among and control with touch, motion and sound. 

For the first time in its 91-year history, The Morton Arboretum will host Illumination: Tree Lights at The Morton Arboretum from Nov. 22 to Jan. 4.

“We wanted to offer visitors an opportunity to experience trees in a different way,” said Anamari Dorgan, director of education with the Arboretum. “[The event] is cool because it’s a combination of cutting edge light technology combined with the beautiful landscape of the Arboretum.”

Dorgan said the Arboretum estimates that more than 100,000 residents will visit the event, sponsored by ComEd and BMO Harris Bank. 

The event has been put together by designers from Lightswitch Architectural, a lighting and visual design company, the Arboretum staff and more than 800 Arboretum volunteers.

The team will set up more than 400 LED and Arc lighting fixtures among about 50 acres of the Arboretum’s 1,700-acre in a few weeks; the planning process took about two years, according to staff. Dorgan said the setup will begin Oct. 31 and will continue until opening day. 

Illumination will take place on a paved walking trail around the Arboretum’s Meadow Lake and through its Conifer Walk. Residents will encounter multiple interactive light displays. One, called Harmony Trees, will consist of black walnut trees covered in multidirectional lights that respond to sound. 

“You can actually talk or sing and make noises and the color will respond so that the trees bathed in light from all sides appear to shift and move and respond to the sounds around you,” Dorgan said.

Another display, called Island of Light, allows residents to control the color and brightness of lights projected onto an island of trees with a wave of a hand. And at another area, called Hug a Tree, residents can control the brightness, color and speed of the shifting light by hugging certain trees. 

Crystal chandeliers and shadow lanterns will create some of the event’s observational light displays. Residents will also be able to see a time-lapse of the seasons through images projected onto a group of trees. 

In addition to the lights at the event, there will also be three concession areas, which will include s’mores, outdoor fire pits and hot chocolate. Inside the Visitor Center, residents will be able to see the Enchanted Railroad display, which features a model railroad train from the LGB Model Railroad Club.

There will also be special event nights with musical groups and children’s activities. The Frozen Robins, a vocal group, will perform Nov. 22 and every Saturday during the event. 

Dorgan said the event was created as a way to encourage residents to experience the winter landscape and learn more about the Arboretum at a time when they would not think to do so. 

“We want people to connect with trees intellectually, but the reality is that if we want people to care we want them to connect emotionally,” Dorgan said. “And this is the place to do that.” 

Each day the event will open at 4:30 p.m., and the last entry will be accepted at 8:30 p.m. It will be closed Nov. 28 and Dec. 2, 9, 16, 24 and 25. 


If you go

What: Illumination: Tree Lights at the Morton Arboretum

Where: The Morton Arboretum, 4100 Rt. 53, Lisle

When: Nov. 22 to Jan. 4

What: Light displays of more than 400 LED and Arc lighting on 1-mile trail of trees 

Admission: Members: $10 for adults, $5 for children 2-17; nonmembers: $15 for adults, $10 for children 2-17; children younger than 2 are free.

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