Squirrels are once again the talk of the town in St Paul’s Mears Park this holiday season, as the little critters chewed up and destroyed the Minnesota town’s Christmas lights display. The war on Christmas waged between the town and the tiny rodents has gone on for years, according to Mears Park residents, who now regret treating the rampant wildlife as outdoor pets.

“I have watched people with food in their hand, and they try to get the squirrels to jump up and take the food,” said Lee Ann LaBore, co-chair of the Friends of Mears Park.

She lives in the Airye Condos overlooking the park, where she told Twin Cities’ Pioneer Press that the fat squirrels, or “tree rats” as she calls them, are overfed and bad mannered despite their cutesy appearance.

LaBore recalled one such park-goer who tried to teach the squirrels tricks and get them to follow him around the park. “One guy was trying to get one to jump on him,” she said, grossed out by the thought of an outdoor animal on her. “It’s a little disturbing.”

While some may view Lee Ann LaBore as a kind of “squirrel hater” trying to stomp out their fun with the park’s wildlife, other have come around to her side as the rodents seek to impede their holiday cheer.

Like little Grinch’s in the night, the furry mammals chewed up and tore down Mears Park’s Christmas lights display last November, said to have cost the vendor nearly $27,000 in damages. According to Twin Cities.coms Frederick Melo, the squirrels chew through the wires because they are coated with polylactic acid, which is a “tantalizing derivative of corn sugar.”

Turned away by the financial loss to the hungry squirrel’s war on Christmas decorations, the vendor allegedly refused to install holiday lights in Mears Park this year, much to the dismay of the town’s residents.

“I don’t blame them,” LaBore said. “Our vendor reuses the lights, and they can’t afford to put those lights up only to have the squirrels destroy them again.”

St Paul's Mears Park during the year, where the squirrels run wild
St Paul’s Mears Park during the year, where the squirrels run wild. Photo Credit: Google Maps

According to Twin Cities.com, the town has even attempted efforts to relocate the squirrels through city ordinances, though more pressing matters surrounding Covid-19 have dominated local politics. Many of the donations to Mears Park this year have also mainly gone to plants and general park maintenance.

“We have a mass of squirrels that live there because people feed them, and they’re the fattest squirrels you’ve ever seen. It started getting bad maybe 10 years ago or so,” said John Mannillo, a longtime volunteer with the Friends of Mears Park. “It was a constant battle. We’d have to go in and repair the lights every week. We’d come in and there’d be two or three trees out.”

“That picked up to the point where there would be so many trees out, the installer wouldn’t do it,” he said.

Instead of the canopy lights, the town has decorated Mears Park with walking path projections, creating “kaleidoscope-like moving images of large white snowflakes.”

The trees in the park have also been lit with base lights that change their color, which the squirrels generally leave alone.

Some Minnesota residents are still not satisfied however, and have even pointed out that they feel less safe walking through the park at night since overhead lights have been turned off so that people can see the walkway projections.

“I get some Facebook stuff, and it’s pretty negative, and I understand,” Lee Ann LaBore acknowledged. “People want to see the twinkly lights.”

“Well, we can’t have twinkly lights,” she continued, scorned by years of holiday battle with the pesky park squirrels. “It was probably this or nothing. It’s gorgeous when you walk through it, but it’s not as pretty from up above.”