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|Boasting 350 60-watt bulbs, the Fort Richardson Christmas Star has lit many dark nights since its 1958 inception from its perch at the 4,000-foot level of Mount Gordon Lyons in the Chugach Range at Fort Richardson. Fencing and structures from the Nike missile battery at Site Summit can still be seen on the ridge above the star. (Photo by John Pennell/Fort Richardson PAO).|
When Fort Richardson residents look east into the night sky, they’ll more than likely spot an enormous five-point star. It’s not the “heavenly body” type of star though; it’s the Army Christmas Star.
The star is lit every year in conjunction with Anchorage’s City of Lights celebration. It will remain lit until the last musher from the Iditarod crosses the finish line, usually sometime in mid- to late-March.
For nearly 50 years now, a holiday star has graced the Fort Richardson skyline, but its size, location and purpose has changed a little over the years.
In 1958, Capt. Douglas Evert, then the commander for the B Battery, 4th Missile Battalion, 43rd Artillery, had a 15-foot wide star built on top of the gatehouse at Site Summit.
Site Summit was the location of a Nike Hercules missile battery from about 1959 until 1979.
Unfortunately, when the star was turned on, it only appeared as one bright light, with no real shape, to those who viewed it from Anchorage.
In 1960, the star was redesigned and relocated to the side of the mountain; still about 4,000 feet up.
It was expanded from the original 15 feet to 117 feet in diameter and sported about 250 light bulbs.
Since then, avalanches have occasionally wiped out portions of the star, or the entire star.
Each summer, work crews from Fort Richardson journey up to the top of Mount Gordon Lyon, where the star is now located, to repair the portions destroyed by the rushing snow and to replace each light bulb.
Since the star’s reconstruction in 1989, that means replacing 350 60-watt light bulbs. This is no easy task, considering much of the now 300-foot diameter star is on the face of the mountain and positioned at precarious angles.
“It’s pretty tricky working on the star. If you drop something from up there, chances are you won’t find it. It will just keep rolling down the mountain side and end up in the thick brush at the bottom,” said Dave Shoe, a Shaw Infrastructure electrician who has worked on the star for nearly two decades.
“It’s pretty steep up there, so you need to watch where you step, too,” he added. “We go up there every summer to fix up what the avalanches have damaged and replace all the bulbs.
“(The star) doesn’t look so pretty from up there,” Shoe said, referring to the poles and wires the lights hang from. “But it’s a wonderful sight from Fort (Richardson) and Anchorage.”