Palmer Lake Star a tradition for young and old

2015 year marks the 80th Anniversary of the Palmer Star which is illuminated each Christmas in the foothills near Palmer Lake. It was photographed Sunday, December 13, 2015. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette

Annabelle Ashcraft and her parents stood in the dark at the base of Sundance Mountain west of Palmer Lake on Nov. 28 as a group of firefighters and town officials counted down.

The cadence echoed through the hills, "Five . four . three . two . one." Then 2-year-old Annabelle, with some help from her mother, Stephanie Keck, and her father, Scott Ashcraft, pushed a button on a remote control.  

What happened next was beautiful and historic for the town of more than 2,500 people. The 450-foot-wide Palmer Lake Star came to life once again, marking the 80th anniversary of the star's holiday glow in northern El Paso County.

"It was pretty magical. It was pretty cool," the 23-year-old Keck said.

Annabelle earned the right to illuminate the town's most famous feature when she won a drawing at the town's annual chili supper that night. The honor came with a ride on a firetruck to the base of the mountain.

"When we got in the firetruck and pulled out of the station, the whole town was cheering her on," Keck said. "It made it even more special for us."

The star was erected in 1935 when B.E. Jack and Bert Sloan wanted to show off Palmer Lake's spirit and keep the town going during the 1930s and the Great Depression, said Jack Anthony, a 59-year-old Colorado Springs man who became the Palmer Lake Star's unofficial historian in 2012.

Anthony, who wrote a proposal to have the star put on the Colorado State Register of Historic Properties, said having a child like Annabelle light the star in 2015 "is just amazing." He said encouraging young people's interest in the Palmer Lake tradition will help keep it alive for at least another 80 years.

And young people in Palmer Lake have been invested in the tradition.

Anthony said Palmer Lake Elementary School students in 2014 raised $1,000 to replace the 92 incandescent bulbs on the star with more efficient, longer-lasting LED bulbs.

"They really took it to the next level," Anthony said. "The children's connection to the star is stronger than ever."

The idea Sloan and Jack had for the star took off when Arthur Bradley, who owned land on Sundance Mountain, gave the men permission to build the star on his land. The land, on a steep 58 percent grade, was eventually deeded to the town.

Poles and cables for the star were donated and the Palmer Lake City Council approved $140 in the town budget for the rest of the materials. For three months, volunteers carried supplies up the hill and put the star together, working into the night and on Sundays. Sloan's German shepherd Dizzy also helped, carrying supplies to workers in a small backpack designed for the dog.

The Palmer Lake Volunteer Fire Department became caretakers of the star in 1937 and have had that role ever since.

Two major repair projects have been done to make sure the star doesn't deteriorate. In 1976, the wiring and light fixtures were updated and wooden posts were replaced with steel. And in 2002, a team brought the Palmer Lake Star up to electrical codes, made it more efficient and added the remote control for lighting it.

The star, which Anthony calls "the town symbol," was first lighted in 1936 and has been illuminated each year from the Saturday after Thanksgiving until Jan. 1. The star is also lighted on "special occasions" like Memorial Day, Patriot Day, the Fourth of July and even when soldiers returned home from the Vietnam War, Anthony said.

Many people have approached Anthony and town officials suggesting that the Palmer Lake Star stay lit all year long.

"If we turned it on every night, it wouldn't be special anymore," Anthony said.

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