BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — It has become a Kern County institution: the Holiday Lights at CALM, one of the primary fundraisers for Bakersfield’s zoo, the nonprofit California Living Museum.
The man behind it, homegrown Josh Barnett, started creating scenes of wonder and delight literally as a boy. Look at him now.
It might seem hard to believe but it was 20 years ago Barnett decided to build a Christmas display for CALM. What started as a unique diversion that would help promote CALM and raise some money is now an ever-expanding attraction that draws thousands each year.
And it’s the zoo’s most popular supplementary attraction. Holiday Lights netted $200,000 for the zoo last year, according to CALM Director Meg Maitland – funds that will help provide for the care of the animals, improve the guest experience and maintain the grounds.
Bakersfield High School graduate Josh Barnett was just 21 when, with sponsorship money from Stier’s RV, he put together the first CALM Holiday Lights. That was 20 years ago.
“After doing that year one, I knew that this was going to be something I’d want to continue to do,” Barnett said.
Today he’s got client organizations in a half-dozen states and 10 year-round full-time employees. Two key members of the team are wife Vicki Barnett and their son Jonah, who provides the vital sort of input only a 10-year-old can provide.
It’s a year-round operation. While you’re sunning yourself by the pool in August, Barnett’s company, Lightasmic, is working on the CALM Holiday Lights or Christmastime displays in Texas, Utah, or South Carolina.
The CALM display, a 30-minute drive-through experience, goes well beyond the bounds of normal Christmas themes.
“Out here at CALM, with the drive-through, we’ve created entire scenes,” he said. “We have like a desert with tumbleweeds, we have flowing lava coming off our volcano. So, it’s just broader than a typical show.”
And to think it all started at his grandmother’s house in Kern City when he was just 8 years old. He got the bug and has been doing it every year since. Now he’s nationwide.
“So all over the place that I get to set up the lights and bring this kind of magic to those local areas,” he said.
CALM’s Holiday Lights runs through Dec. 31, every evening except Christmas Day, 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. It’s $30 a carload in advance and $40 the day of at the gate. Enter at Lake Ming and exit at CALM’s front gate. Leave your hum-bug at home.
Barnett is already thinking about next year’s display at CALM and he’s planning on being around for another 20 years.