Galaxy of Lights Opens 25th Season at Huntsville Botanical Garden this Weekend

Galaxy of Lights, an annual holiday light experience at the Huntsville Botanical Garden, will open Friday for its 25th season. Since its debut, Galaxy has become a regional holiday tradition, and this milestone year will be a tribute to the past and a celebration of new traditions to be made.

Galaxy began as a drive-through light show with 25 displays in 1996. Over the past 25 years, the event has expanded to include both walking and driving experiences in which guests explore nearly 200 light displays along a 2.5-mile route. The displays weave together holiday themes, classic characters, and scenes from the natural world.

This year, in celebration of the 25th anniversary, an immersive experience has been added to the route for Walking Nights. The experience will combine traditional light displays with modern lighting technology and special effects, resulting in a dynamic, sensory experience that transforms the Garden’s natural landscape with light.

“This is a milestone year for Galaxy of Lights, and we are thrilled to be celebrating with our community and volunteers in a really special way,” said Rebecca Turk, director of learning and public engagement at the Garden. “Galaxy has evolved greatly over the past 25 years, and this anniversary celebration will bring together the past, present, and future by introducing new elements into the Galaxy experience that guests know and love.

“It is a year to honor the past, cherish the present, and look ahead into the next 25 years of the beloved tradition that is Galaxy.”

The Galaxy of Lights experience has been adapted in accordance with health and safety guidelines from the Alabama Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Safety measures include thorough cleaning procedures, health and safety training for all employees and volunteers, requirements for face coverings, social distancing protocols, and use of timed-entry tickets to manage capacity during Walking Nights.

“The Garden remains committed to the well-being of the community, and we have implemented certain adaptations for the health and safety of all guests, volunteers, and employees at Galaxy of Lights,” said Turk. “But guests should rest assured that the magic of Galaxy will be as dazzling as ever.”

Galaxy of Lights Walking Nights will take place 5:15-8:30 p.m. Friday through Nov. 25. Tickets for Walking Nights must be purchased for a designated date and entry time. Guests can bring their dogs on Dog Walking Nights, Nov. 16, 17 and 23.

Galaxy of Lights Driving Nights will take place Nov. 27 to Jan. 2, from 5:30 to 9 p.m. Tickets for Driving Nights can be purchased in advance or upon arrival.

Galaxy of Lights tickets are available at the Garden front desk during regular business hours or online at Proceeds from Galaxy of Lights go directly to support the mission activities of the Garden, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

Sue Wagner Named CEO at Huntsville Botanical Garden

The board of directors of Huntsville Botanical Garden has named Sue Wagner its Chief Executive Officer.

Wagner succeeds Paula Steigerwald, who served as president and CEO for the past 17 years and announced her retirement in February. Wagner will start Oct. 1.

“I am excited to join the team at the Huntsville Botanical Garden,” said Wagner. “I am honored to steward this magnificent garden along with the community of supporters to build upon a firm foundation for future success. I look forward to working with the staff, board and volunteers to achieve great things moving forward.”

Wagner’s appointment comes as the result of a six-month nationwide search conducted by a community stakeholder search committee with the assistance of Kittleman and Associates, a national executive recruiting firm specializing in nonprofit organizations.

“After an exhaustive, nationwide search and reviewing a strong pool of candidates, the search committee is excited to have selected a world class executive who can build on the Huntsville Botanical Garden’s strong success and take it to even greater heights in the future,” said Search Committee Chairman Gary Bolton. “Paula Steigerwald has been a tremendous gift to our community and we are thrilled to find someone with Sue’s creativity, experience and passion to shepherd the Garden into a new era.”

Wagner comes to the garden from The Morton Arboretum, a 1,700-acre botanical garden 25 miles west of Chicago in Lisle, Illinois, where she served as vice president for education and information for the past decade. She brings extensive experience in leading public engagement initiatives that inspired people to connect with trees and nature, and supported organizational growth and sustainability.

Prior to joining the Morton Arboretum, Wagner served as vice president for exhibits and programs for the Adler Planetarium in Chicago where she renovated school and teacher programs and led the master plan for exhibition and planetarium dome show production.

Wagner began her career as an educator, teaching K-8 science, math and language arts with an emphasis on problem-based learning. During that time, she was awarded the National Science Foundation’s Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching.

Botanical Garden CEO Paula Steigerwald to Retire

Paula Steigerwald, CEO of the Huntsville Botanical Garden, is retiring after 17 “marvelous” years.

Her retirement is effective Aug. 30, according to a statement from the Garden’s Board of Directors. She joined the Garden in 2002 and oversaw a strong period of transformation and growth at the facility.

Paula Steigerwald

“The past 17 years have been marvelous, and we have achieved great things at the Garden,” she said. “It is my hope that the things we have achieved will be just the beginning of great things yet to come for the garden.”

The Garden was named the Attraction of the Year for the State of Alabama (2008), the Chamber of Commerce Non-Profit of the Year (2008), and the No. 3 tourism attraction which charge admission in the state (2017 and 2018).

“Paula has done an amazing job as CEO of the garden. She provided the leadership, vision, enthusiasm, imagination, and diplomacy to transform this organization into one of the state’s top tourist attractions and a resource we are proud to have in our community,” said Huntsville Botanical Garden Board Chair Penny Billings. “I would like to thank Paula for her service and wish her nothing but the best as she moves into this new phase of life.”

A search committee has been named, and a national search will begin immediately to fill the role. Interested candidates can submit their resumes at