Kids were elated when Santa Claus made an appearance at the Barnyard Lights holiday event, held at the William S. Hart Regional Park Barnyard on Saturday, but were equally curious about the “reindeer” that flanked him.
The “reindeer” were actually five alpacas that share a home with 80 other animals at the barnyard. While the event was presented as another holiday event, its real purpose was something the park does year-round – wildlife education.
“We are a free park, year-round, that we give to the community. It’s an awesome opportunity for people to come and interact and learn about animals at no cost, especially for people that are on a budget and have a large family,” said Rachel Komulainen, park animal keeper for the barnyard. “This is our give-back to the community of being able to invite them to come and have this awesome lights event that’s free for them.”
Aside from the holiday-themed pens and stalls housing the animals for people to explore and interact with, there were also several tables set up with pelts and furs of local wildlife – stationed by experts who helped educate those interested in learning more about them.
The event was organized by the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation and, in addition to the staff, it was made possible by several volunteers.
“We’ve had a lot of help from volunteers and then the staff. We worked really hard setting up over the last month or so,” said Amanda Carder, recreation service supervisor for L.A. County. “I love to see the kids smiling and happy and running around and learning about the animals as well… it’s all about community engagement, bringing families together, teaching kids about the animals here at the facility.”
Event organizers said another aspect of the event’s success was thanks to community support from places like Costco and Lowe’s – who provided materials – and volunteers from the Church of Latter-Day Saints.
Attendees Brea and Veep Yellin, there with two young children, said they loved the decor and that it was a perfect event for their kids.
“I heard about it through social media, but we come here quite often, we come here anyway to see the animals,” said Brea. “The [decorations] are fun.”
“Everything’s been really nice. I’m glad it didn’t rain out,” said Veep.
Komulainen said they’d like to get the word out about the park and that they’re always looking for volunteers.
“This is a hidden jewel in the community. I think a lot of people don’t know about it, so just getting the word out that this is really an awesome park with amazing opportunities for events,” said Komulainen. “It’s really an awesome place to come. Bring your whole family. There’s something for everybody and we’re always looking for volunteers.”