Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Trail Of Lights May Be Gone But Zilker Tree Will Stay

Zilker Tree
Image courtesy Jen W.
Austin Energy says it will keep the Zilker Tree this Christmas, even though the Trail of Lights was eliminated to save money.

Austin City Council announced in September it was axing the Trail of Lights because of budget constraints. It saved the city $400,000 that will be spent on park maintenance.

But this morning, Austin Energy announced it was keeping one local holiday tradition. The Zilker Tree will be set up tomorrow.

The Zilker Tree isn't a real tree. It's a 155-foot light display built around one of Austin's moontowers. This will be the 44th consecutive year that the Zilker Tree is erected.

Here's the full release from Austin Energy.

Austin Energy crews to install Zilker Tree   There may not be a Trail of Lights this year but the Zilker Tree lives on. Now in its 44th consecutive year, Austin Energy crews will erect the 155-foot holiday tree on Thursday, Nov. 4. Built on one of Austin’s 17 remaining historic Moonlight Towers immortalized in the movie Dazed and Confused by Austin filmmaker Richard Linklater, the Zilker Tree has become an Austin icon, as much a part of Austin’s symbolic history as Barton Springs Pool, the State Capitol and the UT Tower. Visiting the Zilker Tree is almost a rite of passage for generations of children who have grown up in the area. Both the young and old alike have spun underneath the tree with their heads tilted back to see the dizzying swirl created by the strategic placement of yellow bulbs among the multi-colored lights. The first Zilker Tree was lit in 1967 by Mayor Pro Tem Emma Long. That honor is now bestowed on the annual winner of a children’s Zilker Tree coloring contest sponsored by the City’s Parks and Recreation Department. The tree will be lit during a ceremony on Sunday, Dec. 5, at 6 p.m. The tree stays lit at night through the end of the year. Very little has changed to the tree since it was first designed by Austin Energy electricians more than four decades ago. But it never grows old and it never fails to bring joy during the holiday season. Even in today’s hi-tech, gadgetry society, the Zilker Tree’s simple but distinctive design has withstood the test of time. The Zilker Tree consists of 3,159 yellow, red, green and blue bulbs strung on 39 streamers from the top of the Moonlight Tower. The Moonlight Towers provided the city’s first urban lighting system in 1895. Seventeen of the original 31 towers are still in use today and are listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The top of the tree is adorned with two stars containing 75 frosted lights each. The exact placement of yellow bulbs on the streamers is so critical to the design that only one of the two dozen linemen and electricians who install the tree are allowed to handle the yellow bulbs to ensure the design is the same as it was 44 years ago. End Media Note: 9 a.m. - 10:30 a.m. – Streamers of lights being laid out, bulbs being checked, replaced. 10:30 a.m. - 1:30 p.m. – Streamers go up


Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. He covers the big projects that are reshaping how we get around Austin, like the I-35 overhaul, the airport's rapid growth and the multibillion-dollar transit expansion Project Connect. He also focuses on the daily changes that affect how we walk, bike and drive around the city. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on X @KUTnathan.