It’s all about the alcohol: Family Zone set for Oktoberfest

By Kasie Von Haden

Lumen Editor




These have become popular nick­names for the ever-so-famous Ok­toberfest tradition in the city of La Crosse.

The Changing the Culture of Risky Drinking Coalition is try­ing to change that by introducing a Family Zone to this year’s Oktober­fest.

The Coalition’s mission is to “reduce the adverse effects of alco­hol-related injuries and deaths by creating a safer environment that supports safer choices and reduc­ing underage access to and use of alcohol,” according to the La Crosse Medical Health Science Consortium webpage.

Vickie Unferth, director of resi­dence life, is on the Harm Reduction Committee as part of the coalition.

In order to create a safe environment that supports safe choices regarding alcohol, the committee looked at different La Crosse festivals, includ­ing Oktoberfest, and asked, “What leads to risky behaviors?” and “How can people be more respon­sible at festivals?” Unferth said.

After looking at Oktoberfest in particular, the committee decided to implement an alcohol-free zone, or the Family Zone, for the first time on the Maple Leaf Parade route.

“Our goal is to create a posi­tive atmosphere for watching the parade,” said Unferth. “The whole parade route is supposed to be al­cohol-free, but there’s no way to en­force it. So now, we have this space, where we can enforce it.”

This 500-foot long area, which stretches along an open field across from Three Rivers Plaza on Cope­land Avenue will be fenced off for the zone. The zone will include bleacher seating, porta-potties, on-site snacks for sale, and face paint­ing. Those who wish to watch the parade from the Family Zone are required to have wristbands, which are free of cost, and can be picked up at various locations, including Viterbo’s Office of Residence Life.

“Within two days of the Fam­ily Zone press release, people were coming to get their wristbands,” Unferth said.

The Family Zone has been re­ported by several media outlets, in­cluding Fox 25-48 News and the La Crosse Tribune. The coverage has brought about controversial reac­tions among community members.

Since the Tribune’s Family Zone story’s appearance in the online edi­tion on Sept. 8, almost 100 people have recommended the story on Facebook and nearly 40 comments on the Family Zone have been made on the Tribune’s website.

People on the Family Zone com­mittee are paying attention to these comments.

“Some of the comments are just obnoxious,” said Unferth.

For example, username “hunts­geese,” wrote “I have never sat in that area to watch the parade but I might this year, sit as close as I can to the big bad fence, get the biggest cooler I can for the cocktails and will have to break out those Cuban cigars I snuck back from Canada. Since you can’t drink or smoke in­side the fence, maybe all the drink­ers and smokers need to get the bracelets and then have a no show.”

Another example comes from username “Pizza” who asked, “Will be a ‘No Fat Chicks’ section?” and username “Stosh,” who along the same lines, asked “With the number of obese people out there, will there be a ‘no candy’ section?”

Despite these comments, Unferth also mentioned that the committee has found some of the comments to be helpful.

“If there’s a concern we think is appropriate, we’re going to talk about it,” she said.

In response to one user’s com­ment, the committee decided to en­force a rule that says those under the age of 18 must be accompanied by an adult in the Family Zone. This will hopefully prevent parents from dropping off their kids to be watched, Unferth stated.

Other users are praising the com­mittee for having this alcohol-free zone on the parade route, such as username “woodsgirl,” who said, “I am grateful to see this action occur­ring for the Mapleleaf parade. Sadly, I enjoyed the parade years ago, but the drinking culture is just not one that I care to support and expose my family to.”

“I’m not anti-alcohol.” Unferth said. “But, not everyone is interest­ed in the alcohol emphasis of Okto­berfest and there are other things to do. Someone doesn’t have to drink to have fun at Oktoberfest. And they certainly don’t have to drink to the point of excess to have fun.”

More information on the Family Zone and other Oktoberfest events can be found on the Oktoberfest website,

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