After Illuminights hits 43,000 visitors, Explore Park eyes more expansion

Organizers celebrate successful event, look to the future, as a local business thrives off foot traffic

ROANOKE COUNTY, Va. – Roanoke County leaders say the Illuminights event was a huge success.

They’re celebrating the final attendance numbers after more than 43,000 people came to see the displays that featured 500,000 lights between Thanksgiving weekend and New Year’s Day.

Organizers like Scott Ramsburg, the business and information manager with Roanoke County’s Parks, Recreation and Tourism Department, were hoping for 25,000 people. They hit a mark 70% above that.

“We had a lot of memories being made out here. Over 43,000 visitors, which surpassed our expectations,” Ramsburg said.

There were some grumblings about the $13 price tag for adults, but organizers got a great response from the event.

“I think we surprised a lot of people. It was a show that was well-received and I think bigger than a lot of people expected,” Ramsburg said.

Shuttles from downtown were a success. Next year, they hope to have more of them and have them run on more nights.

The plan is for every year to have new experiences, from light displays to interactive elements to sound effects.

“We hope it’s going to be a family tradition for area residents for years to come,” Ramsburg said.

Brewpub in Explore Park thrives

Business was booming just feet away, inside the historic Brugh Tavern, which is now home to the Twin Creeks brewpub at Explore Park. The locally-owned business benefited from all the Illuminights visitors.

Co-owner Andy Bishop was pleasantly surprised at how many people stopped in for a drink.

“Nothing but good comments on the food, the service, the wine, the cider,” Bishop said.

They were originally going to close back down until March or April, but now, they're staying open and expanding their weekend hours. What changed their minds? Getting repeat customers and seeing the three-floor tavern packed most nights.

“They would come one time for Illuminights and then they’d be back the next night just to eat dinner,” Bishop said. “That tells us we’re doing something right.”

The brewpub’s soft opening showcased its food menu and its award-winning craft beer. The owners are now looking into what else they can add ahead of their grand opening, which is planned for early this spring.

Starting this weekend, Twin Creeks will expand its hours on Saturdays and Sundays to 2 p.m. to 8 p.m., and remain open from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday nights. The tavern also hosts private events.

What’s next for Explore Park

Roanoke County leaders are looking at adding even more opportunities for fun at Explore Park later this year.

They’re eyeing a new concert series, which could start as early as this spring. They’re still looking into a stage location.

They say upgrading and expanding biking trails will be a big focus this year. They’ll be using some grant money to make improvements.

“Mountain biking and hiking is one of the main reasons people come out here and spend time and stay the night and we want to continue to make it an even better experience for guests that come out to the park,” Ramsburg said.

The park has 14 miles of hiking and biking trails.

The half-mile nature trail used for Illuminights, which has more accessibility than other trails, is now a permanent feature.

The year-round cabins and yurts have been popular and have often been sold out. There are plans to add more of them.

Blue Mountain Adventures plans to expand summer recreation offerings and county leaders also want to improve parking and add special events.

The recent expansion and plans for the future are another sign of growth for a park that has transformed in the last six years.