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Star at Arctic Valley sheds light on Anchorage's holiday season

Craig MedredAlaska Dispatch
The star consists of some 370 individual bulbs and it will grace Mount Gordon Lyon above Arctic Valley until March, when the final Iditarod musher reaches Nome. Loren Holmes photo

The iconic star on Mount Gordon Lyon at the Arctic Valley ski area between Anchorage and Eagle River in Southcentral Alaska flickered on for the first time this season on Friday night.

An estimated 370 bulbs, 35 watts apiece and perched at an elevation of about 4,000 feet, will stay lit each night until late March, when the final Iditarod Trail Sled Dog racer reaches Nome.  Then the star will be turned off until Sept. 11, when it will be illuminated again in recognition of those who lost their lives in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“Last evening, coming home from a day filled with the Nutcracker ballet and Black Friday shopping, it was so nice to see it on,” Becca McCart wrote on the Star on the Mountain’s Facebook page. “I messaged my grown kids to share because I know they enjoy and appreciate it too.”

Lighting the star each year involves more than just flicking a switch. There’s maintenance, too. Each summer, work crews from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson replace every light bulb and make needed repairs. Portions of the star have been demolished by avalanches occasionally during its 54-year history, and maintenance is not easy. The star is positioned on steep, precarious terrain. Drop something, and it may roll downhill a long way.

"We change out every one," Donnie Bull of the bulbs he's been replacing since 2001. "It's a full day, and they've got to be secure. The wind can blow pretty strong up there."

The star is more than a half-century old. It was the brainchild of U.S. Army Capt. Douglas Evert, commander for B Battery, 4th Missile Battalion, 43rd Artillery, who had his men construct a 15-foot star that first shone on May 5, 1959. It rested atop the gatehouse of Site Summit, the location of a Nike Hercules missile battery until 1979.