Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Holiday Lights: Wanakena’s Star of Wonder

A star rises above the black spruce flats of the northwestern Adirondacks during the darkest time of year. It’s one of the simplest yet most startling holiday displays in the Adirondack Park for the utter lack of any other light.

Wanakena residents Ron Caton and Ken Maxwell first strung Christmas lights on a fire tower belonging to the SUNY-ESF Ranger School there eight years ago as a joke. “We weren’t sure how it would go over,” Ron says. He remembers Army helicopters from Fort Drum circling the first night the tower was lit and wondering if he was going to get in trouble. But the beacon over Route 3 was a hit, and he and Maxwell have decorated the 43-foot-tall structure every year since. The lights go on in early December and are turned off New Year’s Day.

The men change the design from year to year, but the shooting star has become a mainstay. This year there’s also a white angel, visible to drivers approaching from the Star Lake side. Ron and Ken string six hundred feet of rope-light, powered by a gasoline generator. One of them drives a snowmobile to the base of the tower every other day to refill it.

Wanakena is too out of the way for most people to do a drive-by, but in Lake Placid it’s an annual tradition to detour by the Mirror Lake Inn to see its 100,000 twinkling lights. In Long Lake, Bill Ellick has created a Christmas spectacle in his yard (across from the cemetery) for a second year, and sightseers can tune in to 87.9 for musical accompaniment. Ray Bush in Newcomb builds a 20-foot-tall snowman on Santanoni Drive. Who puts on the best show in your town?

Photo of the Wanakena star courtesy of Ron Caton and the Ranger School

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Mary Thill lives in Saranac Lake and has worked alternately in journalism and Adirondack conservation for three decades.

3 Responses

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