No, the squirrels of St. Paul's Mears Park aren't waging war on Christmas. It only seems that way.
The downtown park's resident rodents have developed a taste for the holiday lights that once twinkled in Mears' canopy of trees. Or, more accurately, the corn sugar-based plastic that insulates the wires.
Thanks to the hassle and cost of replacing damaged lights, the vendor that installs the holiday display decided to go a different route this year. The result has been going without tree lights in favor of a ground-based projector illuminating the trees from below.
It's magical when walking through the park, said Lee Ann LaBore, co-chair of Friends of Mears Park. But not so great when looking down on the park from the condos and apartments above. Complaints have ensued.
"I miss the twinkling lights, too," she said. "They were just so beautiful. I overlook the park myself, so I feel the neighbors' pain."
LaBore, who has lived at Mears Park for four years, blames park visitors for whetting squirrels' appetites.
"It's the people who feed them who shouldn't be feeding them," she said of those she's seen trying to coax squirrels to eat from their hands. "It's funny and sad at the same time."
Because the park's trees offer no natural food for the many squirrels who populate dozens of nests around the park, LaBore said she believes the squirrels would go elsewhere to eat if folks stopped feeding them. Until then, Friends of Mears Park and the city's Parks and Recreation Department, which split the cost on the lighting display, will keep trying to find a not-as-tasty solution.
Some relief might come when the city has to cut down trees infested with emerald ash borer, LaBore said. Fewer trees mean fewer creatures gnawing on wires.
"It's like being between a rock and the proverbial hard spot," she said. "It's just too many squirrels."