Meet the man behind the Glenn Highway Christmas tree
Glenn Highway drivers know it well—the lit up Christmas tree near the Old Glenn exit. But who keeps power running to those lights through the holiday season?
With the help of people on Facebook, KTVA tracked down the mystery man behind the Christmas magic.
“I drove by and it was lit up and I thought, ‘What a neat idea’”, said Jason Tolstrup.
While he can’t take credit for the initial tree lighting, Tolstrup took over decorating duties a decade ago from two men named Ben and Lucas.
“They said, ‘Wow, your set up is a little better than mine, you might as well keep doing it,’ and I have ever since," Tolstrup said.
It’s an intricate setup considering there’s no power supply anywhere near the interchange. Batteries have become the key to keeping the tradition going; Tolstrup has to swap them out every two days.
“It’s a labor of love,” he said.
Tolstrup did it all on his own for years but has some help now.
“This is our golf cart battery,” Verne Monette pointed out, adding each one weighs about 70 pounds.
Think of Monette as one of Santa’s elves, working behind the scenes to keep the Glenn aglow.
His team at Interstate All Battery fills Tolstrup’s extensive order free of charge.
“You're driving that dark and dreary road, the long commute to the valley and you see a Christmas tree in the middle of the intersection, it gets a lot of people talking,” Monette said. “I don't know that there are any other battery-powered Christmas trees around.”
Over the year’s it’s become the community tree with new ornaments adorning the branches.
“The Flash, Mickey Mouse,” Tolstrup listed off the additions.
“Some people came out and put some on the year before. When they do, I keep them and put them back out the next year,” he said.
Some even leave handwritten, heartwarming letters behind.
“I don’t know whose idea it was or who makes it happen but thank you!” wrote "A Grateful Commuter."
The Andersons from Palmer left a note saying, “I look forward to this tree every year. Thank you for making it happen.”
Tolstrup said it’s that kind of gratitude that makes each trip to the tree worth it, even if it’s not convenient. One year a friend called and told him the tree lights were out on Christmas Day.
“It's Christmas morning, five in the morning. We're supposed to open Christmas presents,” Tolstrup recalled. “I came out here and replaced the batteries and said, 'we have to wait on Christmas presents'. That's just how it goes. It makes me happy doing it.”
Up close you’ll notice something is missing, though.
“It helps that it's dark. You can't see all the needles that aren't on it,” Tolstrup said.
The branches are bare; the tough Alaskan weather had taken its toll.
“About four years ago, the swamp flooded,” he explained. “The [battery] box was under a foot and a half of water, frozen. So I think the roots just died.”
Tolstrup hopes to replace it with a tree just as tall. Until then, he’ll do whatever it takes to keep the lights on, bringing joy to folks passing by.
“It means more every year," he said. "That's why I keep doing it.”
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