Rotary Lights in La Crosse has purchased more than four million lights since its creation in 1995.
The event is so big that volunteers start the set-up in late October and work straight till the opening in late November.
The now tradition for many families started as just a small idea years ago after one volunteer’s trip to Oklahoma.
“One of the local Baptist colleges was all lit up and so they thought, ‘We can do that here in La Crosse,'” said Pat Stephens, Rotary Lights president. “We took that idea and shared it with some of the other rotary clubs in the area and Rotary lights was born.”
Twenty-five years later the Rotary Lights are bigger than ever and every night at 5pm the lights turn on and this year, organizers say there’s even more to experience.
“We put a 50 foot animated tree on top of Grandads Bluff up there and it’s been a good conversation piece,” said Stephens. “We added some animated displays, a little wolf howling at the moon. We expanded from two or three nights to seven nights of our free and open hayrides for families.”
There is no charge to see the lights, those that enjoy their experience are instead asked to make a voluntary contribution of cash or non-perishable food.
Fourteen area food pantries and one local food bank are supported through the donations.
The Rotary Lights can be driven through, walked through, and another unique view is to cross the Mississippi River and see them from the other side.
The event is run entirely by volunteers and sees about 3,200 people give their time each year.
It isn’t just locals who are visiting Riverside Park either.
“Last time we counted a few years ago we had visitors from 32 different states which is kind of nice,” Stephens said. “We’re cranking through about 140,000 people a year.”
Organizers say they never imagined that Rotary Lights would still be around 25 years later.
“No. I don’t think any of us envisioned it getting to this size,” Stephens said.
The lights are open from 5 until 10 most nights until New Years Eve– when they will be open until 1 a.m.