Inside the Gates: Star on the side of the mountain to receive a few upgrades
The legend behind the star on the side of the mountain near Arctic Valley begins around 1959.
An Army soldier wanted to see a star during the holidays while stationed at the Nike Site Summit on top of Mount Gordon Lyon. Over 60 years later, the star is over 300 feet in diameter and contains over 300 light bulbs that are changed every fall.
"The overall cost between maintenance and electricity being used is roughly $1,500 a year," Master Sgt. Shane Derrick with the Air Force 773rd Civil Engineer Squadron said. "Our squadron is the one who foots that bill."
The Air Force took over maintaining the star from the Army in 2010 when Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson became a joint base. A team of 10 to 12 airmen make the trek up the mountain every fall to replace the bulbs and make sure none of the power lines are damaged.
"We did add LED lights to it last year, on the edges so we could help it pop out a little more," Master Sgt. Scott Brown with the 773rd Civil Engineer Squadron said
Brown said the hope is to eventually make all the lights on the star LED to conserve energy and lower costs. Currently, the star has 25 LED lights, with five colored lights at each of the star's five points.
JBER spent around $550 in electrical costs to light the star in September for the 9/11 commemoration and from November 2018 into March 2019. The cost is absorbed into JBER’s utility budget.
Derrick is from Pennsylvania. He says he remembers seeing the star when he arrived in Anchorage in March only to find out the squadron he was assigned to was in charge of it. Brown came to Anchorage from Eielson Air Force Base by way of Omaha, Nebraska and says he's also a "born again Texan." He says he heard about the star through soldier stories.
"I think it's a wonderful symbol," U.S. Army Alaska media relations Chief John Pennell said. "The star is I think unique across not just the Army but across the military pretty much worldwide."
The star gets turned on every year on the day after Thanksgiving and stays lit through March. It's turned off after the final musher, the red lantern winner, crosses the finish line in Nome.
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