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Rotary Lights celebration kicks off start of the holiday season

Published: Nov. 27, 2020 at 9:56 PM CST
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LA CROSSE, Wis. (WEAU) -

COVID-19 has put a damper on many events, but that’s not stopping one Western Wisconsin holiday tradition from continuing as planned.

The holiday season is alive and well in Downtown La Crosse after the Rotary Lights kicked off this evening in Riverside Park.

The 3,000,000-light spectacular is a commitment Rotary Lights President Pat Stephens and his group of volunteers work all year to prepare for.

“With the building, the creating, the fixing, the repairing that has to go, we have people literally working 12 months out of the year for it,” says Stephens. “If you count everything, we’ve got about 61 animated displays that are in the park right now. We had a couple new displays that we added this year that just got finished last night, so we had to bring those in and get them all hooked up.”

Zach Tudahl has been volunteering with Rotary Lights since he was in Middle School. He says he enjoys coming back each year to help.

“Coming down here, you get to work with a variety of people, they’ve become like a second family,” said Tudahl. “We also get to work with a lot of cool light technologies and then the whole mission of Rotary Lights is to feed the hungry.”

Despite COVID-19 cancelling some of this year’s activities, Rotary Light volunteers are staying committed to keeping this annual holiday tradition alive.

Even without a parade and opening ceremony, Santa still came in to light the fireworks and turn on the lights.

While St. Nick traditionally visits with kids close-up, this year he will see them through a window.

People also got to see live reindeer as well as a live nativity scene.

The event is free to attend, but a monetary or non-perishable food donation is suggested and collected at the gates--something Valley View Rotary volunteer Terry Bauer looks forward to witnessing every year.

“As you exit the park, there’s a dropoff and also when you enter the park if you’re walking, we have collection points as you enter the park on foot,” said Bauer.

“We’ve got a tremendous community that put this on every year,” Stephens said. “I think we ended up with 104 non-profit organizations that supplied the people power to make this work--but it really takes about 3,200 volunteers from start to finish every year to pull this off.”

“Tonight is one of the most special evenings when Santa Claus appears and the fireworks,” added Bauer. “It’s such a beautiful evening for people to come out and enjoy the park.”

The lights can be driven or walked through until New Year’s Eve when they will stay on until 1 a.m.

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