Boise's cross getting LEDs, to be even brighter

Boise's cross getting LEDs, to be even brighter
In this 2008 photo, rewarded with a breathtaking view, people stand at the top of Table Rock near a 4,500-pound cross, in Boise, Idaho. (AP Photo/The Idaho Statesman, Darin Oswald)
BOISE, Idaho (AP) - A six-story mountaintop cross whose 2,100 watts of white light have illuminated the Boise night since 1956 is going green - and getting even brighter.

The private group that owns the cross atop Table Rock is replacing its electricity-devouring fluorescent tubes with 2,600 energy-efficient LED lamps to cut the power bill from about $60 monthly to just $20.

The cross, located atop a 3,629-foot pillar that's a favorite spot for locals to watch to sunset, has long been a source of controversy. In 1999, an Illinois atheist unsuccessfully sought to force its dismantlement, claiming Idaho had years earlier illegally sold the ground beneath it to a local Jaycees group to ward off constitutional challenges.

In response, 10,000 people that year marched to the Idaho Capitol in Boise in support of the cross.

Byron Ryals, an 81-year-old Boise resident, now is pushing the $9,000 effort to replace the lights, not only to save energy but also eliminate costly maintenance needed every time one of the fluorescent tubes burns out. For those who object to the lighted Christian symbol, easily the most-visible nighttime landmark above Idaho's capital city, Ryals suggests averting their eyes.

"It's going to be even brighter," he said Tuesday. "It's a beacon of peace and hope to the majority of Idahoans."

For years, the Table Rock Cross of the Idaho Jaycees Inc., to which Ryals belongs, has quietly kept the 4,500-pound cross lit. The brainchild of Jaycees who were inspired by a similar cross erected in another small American town, it went up 55 years ago on land owned at the time by the Idaho State Department of Correction.

By the early 1970s, however, locals watched Oregon courts rule that a similar cross in Eugene violated the U.S. Constitution's separation of church and state, and they grew fearful of a similar result. A 1972 deal with the state of Idaho remedied that, putting the 70-foot by 44-foot patch of ground on the southwestern edge of Table Rock's jagged butte in private hands.

Neither a challenge in the 1990s from the American Civil Liberties Union nor the Chicago atheist brought the cross down.

The structure also has survived the occasional shotgun-wielding ruffian whose potshots only temporarily dimmed the 60-foot structure's nocturnal glow, said Keith Gabriel, the Jaycee who as a 32-year-old in 1972 personally bid $100 on behalf of the public service group for the 3,080-square-foot plot where the cross is located.

By the way, the new, brighter LEDs will be resistant to small-caliber ammunition when they're installed come July's end.

"It's a monument up there," Gabriel said. "A lot of people, when they're coming in from Oregon down the interstate, and they look up, they see that cross up there. It says they're home."