Robbins Finds Place for Star Party
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Robbins is looking to the stars for its future.
"We will find a permanent spot for MASP (Mid-Atlantic Star Party)," Mayor Mickey Brown pledged last week. "And we will find a place for them this year."
Brown invited John Dilday, MASP organizer, to meet with the NC STEP support team. The town thinks its clear, dark skies are a natural resource worth preserving -- a resource that can contribute to the town's economic future.
A star party is a gathering of astronomers to share discoveries and techniques and enjoy views of the skies together. They spend nights looking up, using equipment that varies from a simple pair of binoculars to complex computer-guided large-mirror telescopes.
MASP is one of many such gatherings -- but takes its name from the fact that the Moore County Foothills are halfway between Maine and the Florida Keys, and halfway between Atlanta and Washington, D.C. Robbins is within 10 miles of the exact geographical center of the state, on the edge of the foothills of the Uwharrie Moun-tains.
Dilday was camping out under the stars at a nearby Scout camp some years ago when he realized that the air here was clear enough, and the area dark enough, even to see star colors with the naked eye.
"Some are blue, others yellow," he told the STEP team last week. "There's a pair we call the Cub Scouts (after Cub colors, blue and gold). You can do a lot to keep your area dark."
Brown is pledging to rally the area to that cause. Sky-friendly lighting devices are actually more efficient and provide better security. It is hoped the NC STEP project can put the town into a good position to find grants and other help in preserving (and exploiting) this natural resource.
"Here are the clearest, darkest skies on the Eastern Seaboard between New England and Florida," Dilday has said.
This resource offers a previously unrealized chance for the Robbins area to spur its economic growth. Brown is backing the idea of a new kind of real estate development: the astronomical village.
That is a place with home sites sky-friendly to astronomers. People interested in living in a place where they can look up without having to peer through a haze of scattered light are finding the best way might be to build their homes where such conditions are protected. One of the first is near Chiefland, Fla.
"Chiefland sold out," Dilday said. "You have to wait for somebody to die, because nobody is moving away. Property values went way up."
Dark Sky Protection
A town like Robbins, committed to dark sky protection, with that resource already in place, is an ideal location for such development, according to Dilday.
In 2001, Brown visited MASP and proposed that the section become a "dark park -- where residents would voluntarily work to reduce light pollution and move to better night lighting.
"Samples of the best night sky friendly lighting fixtures will be solicited from vendors to be displayed at MASP 2006," Dilday says. "We would like to replace selected existing fixtures within the Dark Park with these fixtures and record their performance with before and after photographs. These photographs and installations are to aid in the selection and planning of outdoor-night lighting."
Riding to the Rescue
But first, Dilday and Brown had to find a spot for MASP 2006.
MASP has been held since its founding at Camp Reeves, the oldest part of the Occoneechee Scout Reservation (OCR). This year, OCR is in the midst of a major fund drive and expansion. Work forced Scout camporees over to the area MASP had been using, and Dilday had to find another spot.
"We couldn't move the dates," he said. "People know when the October new moon is, and have been planning their vacations years ahead."
Brothers of the Horizon rode to the rescue.
It is a Foothills area bike club that has been in existence for almost three decades. This fall, it is in the news for something more than their annual rally.
Ronnie Thompson, club president, was called out late last week to meet with Mayor Mickey Brown and a stranger from Raleigh. The stranger was Dilday, who has been bringing astronomers to the dark, clear skies around Robbins for over 10 years.
This year, their usual spot out at Occoneechee Scout Reser-vation would not be available. They needed another place.
Thompson, it turned out, had just the spot.
Brothers of the Horizon had a rallying spot, acres of open hilltop well away from town and town lights. They had a large meeting hall and an outside food service building. They had water and power. And they had a good view of the universe.
After a tour and some discussion, Thompson was able to clear the one booking the club had for the period in question -- Oct. 16 through 22. A cell telephone call from him caught Brown and Dilday on a gravel path off Talc Mine Road checking out a possible remote location for astrophotographers.
Thompson had freed the dates. MASP would continue at Robbins.
"During the last weeks of August and the first week of September, Mayor Mickey Brown demonstrated his personal resolve and the interest of the greater North Moore community's extraordinary effort toward reversing the night light pollution trend in the area," Dilday said. "He did this by taking an active role in the selection of the MASP 2006 site."
Dilday plunged into planning.
It took two Saturday trips out to the site, a working lunch and a final planning session over coffee in Carthage -- but Dilday was finally able to begin working out a map for this year's star party.
He wrote Daniel Caton, president of the North Carolina chapter of the International Dark Skies Association -- a nonprofit group dedicated to saving humanity's view of the stars -- to invite them once again to have their annual meeting at MASP 2006.
"MASP is moving to a new site -- 'no sandspurs' -- north of the traditional site and is working with the community to establish an astronomical observing subdivision within the dark park," Dilday wrote. "The 'dark park' was born in 2001, and basically it is the area surrounding Carthage and Robbins.
"This subdivision is to be modeled on the success of Chiefland Astronomical Village, Fla."
Other features are to be included that have been successful in other areas including sites for private observatory sites, camping, retirement and primary homes. This development can become a foundation for night lighting demonstrations and outreach programs.
The timing could not be better, with Robbins moving into full NC STEP participation and actively seeking new directions.
"This is a strategic opportunity," Dilday said. There is renewed interest and effort on the part of the North Moore community. An identified goal is to take steps that will, first, shift Robbins from a yellow spot on the light pollution map to a green spot and, next, shift the area around Robbins from green to blue. To do this, education, cooperation and action are required. MASP is committed to this as is the North Moore community."
Interested persons can go to http://cleardarksky.com/lp/MidAtSPNClp.html?Mn=photoshop to see the light pollution map.
Dilday understands that Robbins is committing itself in some sense in honor of one of the town's sons.
"There is local interest -- pride exists -- in the space shuttle experiences of Astronaut Dr. Charles E. 'Chuck' Brady who graduated from North Moore High School in 1969," Dilday says. "Dr. Brady flew on STS-78 Columbia, the longest Space Shuttle mission to that date in 1996 and logged over 405 hours in space."
He took time to visit the huge mural of Brady overlooking the town center.
"Mayor Brown and the town of Robbins recognize that dark skies are an essential element for astronomy," he said. "Robbins is fortunate to share her dark skies with MASP. Their idea is to become a leader in community awareness and control of night lighting."
Brown, Dilday and others realize that such a leadership position will make Robbins a town to look up to, because it will be a place to look up from.
John Chappell can be reached at 783-5841 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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