28th annual Rotary Lights underway in La Crosse

Published: Dec. 9, 2022 at 8:21 PM CST
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LA CROSSE, Wis. (WEAU) - A staple of La Crosse’s holiday season is back and better than ever.

For the 28th year, millions of lights and intricate displays have filled Riverside Park for the annual Rotary Lights celebration.

Rotary Lights President Pat Stephens says putting the event on each year is a total community effort.

“We have 98 organizations helping this year, over 3,000 volunteers that help fix, repair, put up, take down, and so on,” Stephens shared.

Nearly 160,000 visitors per year enjoy the holiday tradition while driving, walking, or taking carriage rides through the park.

The 2022 edition of Rotary Lights began on Nov. 25, and Stephens says the turnout has been exceptional over the first two weeks.

Organizers like Stephens are hoping the high attendance continues, while also avoiding some of the setbacks that were experienced last year.

A costly vandalism before the event began threatened to delay the start of Rotary Lights in 2021, and a severe windstorm caused significant damage to the displays in mid-December, resulting in the first-ever closure in the history of Rotary Lights.

Stephens credits the community and volunteers for helping Rotary Lights get back on its feet.

“We had so many people that volunteered, and I’m fortunate enough to know a lot of people in La Crosse, and a lot of those that called in and volunteered and wanted to help, I had never seen and met before,” Stephens recalled. “They came in with their tools and dressed to work outdoors, and got us back up and going.”

Last year’s windstorm lead to more protective measures being installed this year to ensure the displays won’t be damaged by mother nature.

“We’ve gotten a little smarter, they all are anchored a little differently than they used to be this year, so the wind doesn’t get under them and blow them away,” Stephens said.

Keeping Rotary Lights open is key to fulfilling the event’s mission...collection food donations to help those in need.

“This year, we’ll take in well over 300,000 food items, that is enough items to take care of 14 area food pantries for almost four months,” Stephens detailed. “The food pantries this year need it more than ever, there are more people relying on food shelves than ever before in our history.”

Nearly five million food items have been donated since Rotary Lights began in 1995, and Stephens believes that milestone will be crossed by the end of the month.

“With the records that we have, with the buses that we know are coming, with the other activities and the people that are coming down, I think we’re going to break all records this year,” Stephens expressed.

Rotary Lights is open from 5-10 PM every night through Dec. 31.

More information on this year’s event can be found here.