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Chinese lanterns to light up Spokane’s Riverfront Park again

Move over, Pokemon Go. There’s an even better reason to roam Riverfront Park this fall. Lanterns will light up paths for a second time when the Washington State Chinese Lantern Festival brings back its popular attraction beginning Friday.

This year’s festival, which runs until through Oct. 30, is no repeat performance. A team of 23 electricians, engineers and designers from Sichuan, China, have spent months constructing all new displays.

“Everything is absolutely different this year,” said Tim Berry of Tianyu Arts & Culture, the Sichuan, China-based company presenting the festival. “We do not reuse any lanterns the next year, so all of these lanterns are all brand new.”

The festival will feature displays made up of hundreds of traditional, brightly colored Chinese lanterns. The lanterns are handmade by Chinese artisans who spent weeks stretching silk over molded wire and hand-painting details with a spray gun. This year, the whimsical scenes and tableaus focus more on animals and sea creatures. Pandas and penguins prance, swans and jellyfish glide, and a 120-foot long giant dragon rears its brilliant head along the meadow near the Clocktower.

Kids will get a kick out of the antics of a herd of horse-sized dinosaurs who can visibly breathe in and out as they roar among brightly lit fauna. Two coin-operated dinosaurs have been planted near the gift shop and mounted with saddles for children to ride.

Among the new displays is a giant porcelain pagoda made from 70,000 pieces of traditional blue and white porcelain tea cups, saucers and spoons – each applied by hand. In another unusual use of materials, thousands of vials of liquid were hand-dyed and hand-tied together to form a band of qilins, mythical creatures with the heads of dragons and bodies of tigers.

There will be two daily performances by Chinese artists and acrobats. Among the acts are contortionism, face changing, plate spinning and martial arts. Four times a night, the IMAX will show a documentary about how the lanterns are made and how the festival is produced. Several local food trucks will serve Asian noodles, teriyaki, street food and kettle corn, with espresso available on weekends.

Last year, more than 80,000 people attended the Chinese Lantern Festival. That number is even more impressive considering that the event is put on during what is typically a slow time for the park.

“The planners felt this show has the capability to continue its growth each year by adding new displays, acts and programming that immerse the guest in the Chinese culture,” said Jon Moog, director of Riverfront Park. “It also provides a community event … that supports tourism and economic vitality to the downtown area.”

One of the most welcome changes this year may be the ticket prices, which were all lowered by $2 from last year’s prices. “Following last year’s event, we received valuable feedback from the community that there was a pricing barrier for families to enjoy this amazing experience,” Moog said.

In response, adult tickets now cost $15, youth (4-16 yrs) $10, and children 3 and younger can enter free. The park also added a family rate – two adults and two children for $40. Seniors older than 65 get a $2 discount on Tuesdays; active and veteran military get the discount on Wednesdays; and Thursdays, it’s $2 off for college students. Discount tickets must be purchased in person with a valid ID.

Tickets can be purchased through the website, with no surcharges, or in person at the festival’s ticket booth, which opens at 4:30 daily. School field trips and group tours are available, call (509) 625-6640 to make arrangements. Students who tour with their class take home a free ticket to return with an adult.