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North Carolina's 'Enchanted Airlie' Grows International

When night falls over 67-acre Airlie Gardens in December, the forest comes alive as "Enchanted Airlie," an estimated 750,000 twinkling lights illuminating a half-mile, self-guided, walking trail of holiday displays. Seasonal sounds fill the air and warm holiday refreshments add the perfect touch for a winter stroll.

Created by the Airlie Gardens Foundation 10 years ago, Enchanted Airlie has rapidly gained national and international prominence as a must-see attraction for the holidays.

"We have visitors from all 50 states and 47 different countries," said Janine Powell, Airlie Gardens' development director. "During Enchanted Airlie we'll see around 30,000 people."

The Southeast Tourism Society voted Enchanted Airlie a Top 20 Event in 2012. In November, Out and About editor for Raleigh's WRAL-TV, Kathy Hanrahan, selected Enchanted Airlie as one of five picks in North Carolina for "places you should definitely try to visit before the end of the year."

Once the property of 19th century financier Pembroke Jones and his wife Sarah, Airlie Gardens is the last undeveloped land open to the public along Bradley Creek, across the waterway from Wrightsville Beach. In 1999, Airlie Gardens was purchased by New Hanover County, preserving Airlie as a historic public garden, maintained by supporters and the county.

"The entire experience is truly enchanting," added Powell. "Our Santa has become a tradition for so many families." Other highlights include expansion of the Enchanted Forest, Poinsettia Paradise with over 400 bright and colorful plants, over 19.5 miles of LED lights on cone-shaped holiday trees, and a light display coordinated with holiday music. New in 2014, Winter Princesses Elsa and Anna will greet guests and be available for photos.

Tickets are available for purchase on Airlie Gardens or Blockade Runner Beach Resort websites. Blockade Runner includes accommodations and breakfast and is located three miles from Airlie Gardens. Tickets must be pre-purchased; they are not available at the gate.

Admission to Enchanted Airlie is available by carload, couple's pass, or individual, with children under 4 admitted free. Large passenger vans, limos, and buses should call in advance for special arrangements. Enchanted Airlie is handicap accessible, with wheelchairs available on a first-come basis.

Proceeds from Enchanted Airlie benefit the preservation and improvement of New Hanover County's historic Airlie Gardens.