Lights out: Grinch-like thieves ruin Maple Valley tradition

MAPLE VALLEY, Wash. -- Thieves have forced organizers to pull the plug on a popular holiday light display in Maple Valley.

Maple Valley prides itself on its dazzling Lake Wilderness Arboretum light show, which features thousands upon thousands of lights. It's a show that would usually remain lit through New Year's Eve, but not this year.

This year, break-ins at the Lake Wilderness Arboretum will force organizers to light the show for only one night.

"It's disheartening and frustrating," said Arboretum Property Manager Bob Wahlberg. "As soon as the event is over for that one day, we will start pulling cords and moving everything back into locked storage."

That one day is next Wednesday, December 4, from 6-8 p.m. at Lake Wilderness Park. That's when the City of Maple Valley holds a community celebration that draws thousands of people.

The elaborate display is spread throughout the arboretum's 42-acres and at the park lodge. Visitors can enjoy train rides, hot chocolate and other entertainment.

Wahlberg said somebody broke in and stole more than 200 power cords valued at about $1,500. He is concerned they would get stolen again if left out every night through December.

"We are a mostly volunteer organization with a small budget," he said. "The break-ins we've had since spring have cost us as much as $6,000. We can't afford to keep replacing cords."

Thieves have also taken hand tools, a weed-eater and a leaf blower, as well as brass sprinkler parts. They got into the arboretum's maintenance and storage area by scaling a fence, cutting through another, and breaking locks on doors.

The organization that oversees the publicly-owned arboretum does not have the financial resources to hire security guards. Though now, staff members are considering a paid guard as an option, or possibly posting volunteers to keep an eye on things at night.

Families that look forward to the light display are disappointed.

"Why would somebody target the arboretum?," said Niccole Bourlier. " It's disturbing that it's happening in Maple Valley because it's such a small town. We kind of watch out for each other."

Bourlier hopes the city can come up with a security plan and says she and others would volunteer.

The arboretum does have security cameras and is will now have a Maple Valley police vehicle parked on premises.

Wahlberg said it takes a mammoth effort by volunteers and city staff to set up all of the lights. They will try to connect everything as close to Wednesday's event as possible, to minimize the window in which a thief could target the cords.

"It's not the way we like it, but I don't know what our other alternatives will be," he said.

Wahlberg told us the city will keep it's portion of the light display at the lodge burning throughout December.