Arctic Valley star to shine with new lights

773d CES upgrades Arctic Valley star with new lights
773d CES upgrades Arctic Valley star with new lights(JBER)
Published: Sep. 12, 2022 at 4:57 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The 300-foot-wide star at Arctic Valley will be illuminated with new light bulbs this holiday season.

According to a press release from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, the 773d Civil Engineering Squadron is putting in a new lighting system that will make it easier to maintain. The squadron is also upgrading the lights. Interior electrical work lead and designer Preston Murfin helped install the new lights.

“We put in rope lights out of centrally-located junction boxes so that we can see the star with two runs per section. If a leg is dimmer, you know you’re missing a rope,” Murfin said.

The squadron has been maintaining the holiday star that sits at the edge of Mount Gordon Lyon since 2010 when Fort Richardson and Elmendorf Air Force Base merged. The holiday tradition began in 1958.

The previous design utilized string lights that resemble those hung from a Christmas tree, which were elevated by metal poles. The release said that the weight of the snow would create issues with the electrical connections.

Because the star is 4,000 feet above sea level, it can be difficult for the squadron and civilian volunteers to maintain. Murfin created a new design that elevates the junction boxes in the star, allowing the squadron to have easier access for repairs when it starts snowing. Murfin said that due to the snow weight issues, lights on the star went out twice last winter.

“We had crews go up in the snow in the winter, in sub-zero temperatures,” Murfin said. “And then that repair ended up running into issues because we got additional snow and it put pressure on the wires and caused the same problem all over again.”

The installation of a remote module will allow operators to turn the star on and off to help prevent hazards. Instead of needing snowmachines or show shoes to reach where the control boxes are, the squadron is now able to hit a switch from right across the street.

The squadron completed two weeks of work on the star prior to its first illumination of the year on Sept. 11 in remembrance of the 2001 attacks. The star is then turned on that day after Thanksgiving and remains lit until the final musher finishes the Iditarod Trail sled dog race.

The tradition began when U.S. Army commander Capt. Douglas Evert positioned a 15-foot lighted star on top of the gatehouse at the Nike Missile Site Summit on Mount Gordon Lyon in Arctic Valley.

The star was upgraded to 117 feet in 1970 so that people could see it in Anchorage. It was then expanded to its current size in 1989. U.S. Air Force Tech Sgt. Logan Hall is the non-commissioned officer in charge of the electrical shop.

“I have two sons of my own and they love seeing the star every morning,” Hall said. “My one son goes to school in Eagle River, so both kids get to see it every morning on their trip and I get to tell them I help keep that light on.”