Windstorm causes tens of thousands of dollars in damages to Rotary Lights display

Storm damages several displays and decorations, forcing organizers to close La Crosse's holiday tradition for the second night in a row Thursday

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) — Rotary Lights was not immune to Wednesday night’s windstorm.

The storm damaged several displays and decorations, forcing organizers to close the holiday tradition for the second night in a row.

Volunteers spent part of Thursday morning cutting apart Rotary Lights’ igloo display because of the damage resulting from high winds.

“Just turned into one big pretzel,” volunteer Bill Heinz said. “It’s just mangled and totally unrepairable.”

Disbelief for volunteers like Heinz, who work so hard to put these decorations together.

“It’s just heartbreaking,” Heinz said.

Rotary Lights President Pat Stephens says other big and small displays suffered damage, including one of the mechanical trees and the heating tent.

Both of those displays are likely done for the year, Stephens said.

“There’s so much work that goes into this,” Stephens said. “It’s so labor-intense. And then you have one evening that wrecks it all.”

Tens of thousands of dollars in damages.

“It’s going to be significant for us, no question about it,” Stephens said. “And that’s on top of all of the vandalism that we had last month. So, this is not fun.”

But some decorations withstood the storm.

The big tree at the park’s entrance is fine, Stephens said.

There also weren’t any injuries, quite possibly because, exercising caution in light of severe weather forecasts, organizers closed the extravaganza Wednesday night for the first time in its 26-year history.

“Thank goodness nobody got hurt,” Stephens said.

And ultimately, it appears the damages from the storm won’t keep the lights off for too long.

“It might not be as spectacular as has been, but it’s going to be open,” Stephens said.

A holiday tradition that can’t be open without the help of the volunteers.

“Even though we may not be shining bright, still come down,” Heinz said. “The people need the donations.”

Stephens hopes to reopen Rotary Lights by Friday night.

The last couple weeks of December are the biggest nights for Rotary Lights’ food collections for area food shelves.

Community members can still donate online on Rotary Lights’ website here.

Helicopter rides were set to start Thursday evening over the display, but Stephens said plans now are to offer the rides beginning Friday.

Recent News Headlines from News 8 Now  
Accused arsonist denies setting fire that killed dogs in La Crosse 
Firefighters battle flames and wind overnight at Monroe County blaze that destroyed home 

Eau Claire, town of Onalaska collecting brush for storm clean-up

Judge rejects Purdue Pharma’s sweeping opioid settlement