LA CROSSE Wisc. (WLAX/WEUX) – The Rotary Lights display in La Crosse is back on for the season at Riverside Park. The display embodies the Christmas spirit with a community coming together to help each other.
La Crosse’s Rotary Light display has been lighting up the Coulee Region since 1995. Starting after a rotary member returned from a trip to Oklahoma with the idea to create a display like he had seen there.
Rotary lights president Pat Stephens said, “Here we are 27 years later with a much larger display than we ever imagined.” Much larger to the tune of 65 animated displays, 13 hundred candy canes, 12 hundred extension cords, and 70 electrical panels.
“We’ve purchased over the years about 3 and a half million lights and the past few years we’ve lost 33 trees in the park, so actually we have more lights than trees to put them in at this point,” said Stephens.
All of those lights take 32-hundred volunteers multiple weeks to set up, larger pieces start entering Riverside Park in mid-October.
“The first week in November we empty out the warehouse, we bring everything down here, and then literally there are groups here every day up until the day after Thanksgiving when we open up.”
There’s more to Rotary Lights than just seeing Christmas lights. All throughout Riverside Park, there are plenty of activities to enjoy, including a smore’s making station. There are band performances, Santa visits, live reindeer, and a collection of non-perishable food.
“We collected 284,000 food items to supply 14 food pantries for about 3 and a half months, so the community has been extremely generous. Generous again when for the first time ever. Organizers weren’t sure if the rotary lights would happen this winter,” said Stephens.
In October, many of the electrical panels were cut by vandals, causing an estimated 10-thousand dollars in damage.
“Our group will tell you that in a number of conversations, I couldn’t help but get tears in my eyes. We had offers of help, we had volunteer electricians that came in. We got some financial contributions from five different states.”
Coming together to ensure the Christmas tradition continued.
“I think it’s beautiful. I think that everything that is going on is perfect for families, for friends. We are just loving it. It’s an incredibly beautiful evening and the lights are magical,” said Sheri Grass-Redfox of Tomah.
“As you get into the 27th year, we’re getting into the next generation and the third generation which is kind of neat as well. Little kids that came to see Santa years ago are now bringing their own kids,” said Stephens.
And for people who think the lights are just for kids, the 50 plus La Crosse group would disagree.
“No way. No way. It’s a lot of fun.”
The lights will be on every night through New Year’s Eve when they stay on until 1 am. This year’s Rotary Lights includes a bigger ice castle for live performances, a new horse-drawn carriage light display, and the addition of two new mascots. Katie and Kilo Watts.