Rotary Lights wraps up 26th season

Volunteer coordinator Sarah Dahlke says more people than expected went to the event in 2020

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) – We usually don’t see things come to an end on Jan. 1.

But crews at Rotary Lights took down the millions of lights and other decorations in Riverside Park.

“You get to take down Christmas trees and lights, and wind them up from an amazing event like this,” volunteer Jim Busch said.

Busch started unwrapping Christmas decorations at nine o’clock this morning.

“We signed up for a six-hour shift,” Busch said. “I dress extra warm, so it’s not too bad. And you keep busy, you stay warm.”

“Today, we have about 150 people working here in the park,” Rotary Lights volunteer coordinator Sarah Dahlke said. “Eight volunteer organizations are helping us in various pockets throughout the park. And then we have our main crew.”

That same crew helps put up millions of lights and other displays throughout Riverside Park.

“It’s a celebration of another year under our belts,” Dahlke said.

Year 26.

“And just the tremendous support that we’ve had from the community,” Dahlke said.

That support this year reached beyond Coulee Region boundaries.

“Oh my gosh, we blew all of our attendance from past years out of the water,” Dahlke said.

Dahkle says food donations far exceeded the event’s goals this year.

“Our cash goal was $160,000,” Dahlke said.

That goal was also shattered.

“The Coulee Region needed Rotary Lights this year more than ever before,” Dahlke said.

But not everything in 2020 was the same.

“There were some things that we had to set aside,” Dahlke said.

Like the singing group that, in a normal year, performs in the tent.

“It was the best decision to not have people put at risk,” Dahlke said.

Maybe people can see the singing group again next season.

“We’re hopeful that the vaccine that they’re bringing the community and to the world, will do its job and COVID will be a thing of the past,” Dahlke said.

But as the lights come down, at least there was a bright spot for people in a year that seemed like it was only filled with darkness.

“I think we can celebrate the accomplishments that we’ve made, that we were able to do it safely,” Dahlke said.

Dahlke says people from the Twin Cities, Chicago, Des Moines and other cities out of our viewing area drove all the way to La Crosse just to see the lights.

The event puts about 3.5 million lights on display every year. Dahlke says Rotary Lights is aiming to replace about half of its lights for next season.