Hurricane Irma has canceled Christmas at Jungle Gardens.
The Sarasota park announced that its popular Holiday Lights exhibit, which runs each year, will not take place this holiday season for the first time since it began 15 years ago.
Each year, the attraction transforms the park’s tropical jungle into a winter escape filled with various holiday-centric activities that routinely draws large crowds.
But when Hurricane Irma ripped through the state in early September, leaving heaps of damage in its wake, park officials said they were forced to close the Gardens for five weeks.
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“Our entire jungle area was completely impassable, we lost a considerable number of trees,” said Nancy Lavick, the park’s marketing director.
While the Gardens reopened to the public in mid-October, Lavick said staff didn’t have enough time to prepare and set up for Holiday Lights. Since the hurricane’s damage was so significant, the resources and time that staff usually put toward the display had to be used for cleanup efforts.
“We are still clearing and repairing quite a bit,” Lavick said. “The Gardens’ is still not fully functional. We were one of the hardest hit spots in the area.”
The historic park, located at 3701 Bay Shore Road just off North Tamiami Trail, first opened in the 1930s and is a go-to stop for many locals. The attraction features dozens of performances and is home to more than 200 animals. Lavick said several animal enclosures were crushed during the storm, but all had been moved to a safe location and none were harmed.
But Jungle Gardens officials say the cancellation is a one-time occurrence and plan to have the Holiday Lights back on in 2018.
“We know we are a family tradition for many many people, and we fully intend to have the Holiday Lights going next year,” Lavick said. “We will recover.”
Samantha Putterman: 941-745-7027, @Samputterman