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Lancaster trees twinkling again after Pokemon vandalism

Central Avenue's trees are about to twinkle again in downtown Lancaster after a four-month blackout.

Village crews last week put the finishing touches on restringing hundreds of miniature white lights and replacing many on the 20 trees that line both sides of the Central Avenue business district and are usually lit year-round between West Main Street and Pleasant Avenue. And by early November, all the lights in the trees should be functioning.

It was not an easy feat after the stretch of Central Avenue went dark in July, as result of vandalism spilling over from the Pokemon Go craze that had followers chasing around the game's characters in the village near West Main and the Lancaster Opera House.

Pokemon Go lovers became so intense that village officials began noticing they were unplugging tree lights so they could charge their phones at the base of the curbside village trees, or even unplugging connections between strings of lights, leaving the trees either dark or just partly lit. Some tree lights were even taken.

After six weeks of the mayhem, Public Works Superintendent William G. Cansdale turned the power off at the panel box.

"It was better to have the trees turned off, so they're all dark, rather than mismatched, which created an unappealing look," Cansdale said. "I had some village trustees ask why there were no lights. On some trees, the bottom half would be lit, and the top half would be dark. Normally, we had these on year-round because it looked so nice."

"We knew about it and tolerated it a little bit," Cansdale said of the vandalism. But crew chiefs became frustrated when they would talk to Pokemon "offenders" and ask them to stop charging their phones in the outlets for tree lights. and were often rebuffed.

With the holidays around the corner, village crews last week made it a priority to repair the light damage, buy new lights and restring some. General Crew Chief George Miller said it amounted to "a lot of vandalism." Tree wires were damaged and some vandals used knives to cut wires from the base of trees near plugs that lead to lights in the canopy of the trees.

"We re-energized all the light strands and had to put in new bulbs," Miller said, noting at least 300 bulbs were replaced. "Now, we have to fill in the missing bulbs, and hope to complete it by early November. It's going to look very nice. It's been dark and dreary, and now it'll look attractive."

Village officials did not have an estimated cost of the vandalism damage, but knew it would be tedious work to get the trees restrung and back to what they once were.

"We had a large amount of damage, but we're turning them back on now that the Pokemon thing has died out," Cansdale said. "When the snow starts falling, it's really attractive.  When you crest the hill at Pleasant and Central, and it slopes down toward Broadway, as snow falls at night, it's a very pretty scene as you come through the village."

Village crews also plan to soon install the village's old, but popular, snowflake lights on the New York Store – which were not up at all last year after suffering significant damage in the 2014 November snowstorm. The snowflake lights have since been repaired.

Also making a return for holiday decorations are two illuminated garlands that are hung across Central Avenue at both ends of the business district. They had not been put up last year, either.

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