Warmth, sunshine draw Wichitans outdoors

12/29/2011 5:00 AM

12/30/2011 6:31 AM

The year is ending on a high-temperature note, and people are taking advantage of it to get in some unseasonable outdoor activities.

“We’re packed right now as we speak,” Dick Orr of L.W. Clapp Memorial Golf Course said just before lunch Thursday. “We’re very happy about it.” Normally, on a seasonably cold winter day, “there’s not anybody,” Orr said.

Botanica’s holiday event, Illuminations, is turning out to be a success in its newly expanded form, and the good weather this Christmas season has been a big part of it, Botanica director Marty Miller said. Attendance will top 30,000 for the event that has run nightly since Nov. 25; last year, about 11,000 people turned out for the eight weekend nights before Christmas that the gardens were lighted.

Just this week, “the weather’s been fantastic and has brought in over a thousand people per night and even has brought in a few, probably more than normal, visiting the garden in the daytime,” Miller said. “We’re looking forward to the rest of this week, including Saturday night. I couldn’t be any happier. The city has really turned out to see Illuminations.”

The event runs from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. today and Saturday, the final nights of the season. Admission is $7 for adults unless they bring two canned goods for the Kansas Food Bank; in that case they can pay the children’s admission price of $5.

Other attractions also are seeing increased attendance because of the winter break — and the break in winter. The Sedgwick County Zoo had 3,300 visitors Wednesday, director Mark Reed said. Admission on winter Wednesdays is discounted to $2.50, but even so, attendance is up this week because of the nice weather, he said.

“We’ve had about 2,000 come through” by midafternoon Thursday, said Tucker Ochs in admissions. “Really with the zoo it just kind of depends on the weather.”

The high temperature was just shy of 60 on Thursday and was forecast to break 60 on Saturday, with a little dip to 58 today. Even the lows are to be above freezing until Sunday night, when the temperature is supposed to tumble to 20. But daytime temperatures are expected to be in the 40s.

“It might get a little cooler Monday, and then it’ll warm up a little after then, too,” said Alex Laugeman of the National Weather Service in Wichita. So far the projections of a warmer, drier winter are winning out over other long-term forecasts.

“There’s no real precipitation in the near future or anything so it should be pretty nice,” Laugeman said. “Even the long-term storm track seems to be staying north.”

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