Anchorage’s beloved holiday star will be switched on remotely for first time ever


This story originally appeared on Alaska Public Media and is republished here with permission.

Anchorage’s beloved holiday star atop Mount Gordon Lyon will light up on Friday. And now, turning it on is easier than ever.

The tradition of the holiday star began in 1958, when an Army captain placed a 15-foot star on a guardhouse. It’s seen renovations in the decades since, with a 300-foot star serving as a bright sight for Anchorage residents looking north in the winter since the late 1980s. In years past, teams from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson had to take snowmachines up the mountain, to the star, to turn it on and off. It took a long time, said Preston Murfin, the civilian electrical work lead.

“Depending on the road conditions and also with the snowcat, because it travels quite a bit slower,” Murfin said, “from start to finish you’re looking at a four-hour day.”

This year, for the first time, Murfin and others will turn on the star remotely, from a heated building about 3 miles away. It’s a small switch in a fuse box, like turning on a light switch.

“Normally, that’s how she would sit,” Murfin said as he opened the box. “A guy comes in, and two snaps opens it up, and throws the switch.”

The new setup means JBER teams will no longer have to snowmachine to the star on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Now, Murfin will simply swing by the remote switch in the morning, and flip it on. The switch sends a radio signal to the star that lights it up in under 30 seconds. And next year, he said, the switch will be installed at his main building — making the commute even shorter.

JBER star Anchorage Alaska Public Media

Another change to the star this year: Rope lights will replace more than 300 individual light bulbs. Murfin said that’ll make necessary repairs easier to spot.

“Each run of the star has two rope lights on it,” Murfin said. “So, should we see one dim or go out, you know exactly what box to go to make the repair.”

Anchorage residents can expect the star to begin to shine on Mount Gordon Lyon starting at 8 a.m. Friday. It’ll be turned off when the last Iditarod musher crosses the finish line in March.