Rotary lights still 80,000 donated food items short of reaching goal

The new year means the La Crosse community said goodbye to more than two million lights along the river.

Hundreds of volunteers braved the sub-zero temperatures Tuesday to start taking down all of the lights and the displays at Riverside Park.

It took volunteers between four and six weeks to set everything up, but will only take about four to six days to get the park cleared.

But that’s not the only work that still needs to be done.

Volunteers are still about 80,000 donated food items short of reaching their goal this year.

It was only a little more than a month ago when the switch was flipped and more than two-and-a-half million twinkling lights lit up the park.


“It’s pretty incredible,” said Mike Diveley, a volunteer electrician.

He’s one of about 130 volunteers braved the bitter temperatures to spend their New Year’s Day undoing hundreds of hours of hard work.

“Pretty cold out today,” said another volunteer.

One by one, thousands of feet in stringing lights were taken down.

“This will go on forever,” said a volunteer.

Other volunteers also started taking apart all of the displays and carefully packing them for storage.

“We save the coldest days for cleanup here and for take down,” said Pat Stephens, president of Rotary Lights.

Rotary lights attracted an estimated more than 200,000 visitors to the park this year.

Stephens said that’s an even better turn out than last season despite much colder temperatures.

“Everybody comes to see the park when its first set up, and then once it gets a little colder with a white blanket on the ground, people want to come back and see it and it looks even nicer at that point,” said Stephens.

This year, volunteers have also collected roughly 232,000 items of donated food for local pantries.

That’s up about 6,000 items from last year, but Stephens says it’s still not where they want to be.

“Two-hundred thirty two-thousand, it’s pretty nice to be able to get that, but we still think with a little more effort and some out of the park effort, we’ll be able to hit that quarter of a million a year mark,” said Stephens.

So while this year’s Rotary lights display has stopped shining, plans for next year’s display are already looking pretty bright.

“We always take notes every year of the good, the bad, and the ugly every year, to see what went well and what we need to improve on and what we might be able to do to make the operation better next year,” said Stephens.

Crews are looking into possibly lighting up the eagle statue down at the park as well as having a laser show in the coming years.

Volunteers will continue taking donations for the next four days at the park as tear-down continues.