JOHN CHAPPELL: Robbins Gets Ready for STEP, Star Party
Things are percolating in Robbins.
Any day now, the N.C. Rural Center will send the first STEP coaches to Robbins. They'll tour the area, meet residents, and get together with Theron Bell and a local support team that includes people from all over Moore County who want to help.
At the same time, Robbins is gearing up to hold some meetings to get local volunteers ready for the town's hosting of MASP 2006, the Mid-Atlantic Star Party.
Helpers will learn a special "etiquette" long followed at such astronomer gatherings. MASP has been held here for more than a decade, but always at the Occoneechee Scout Reservation (OSR) just south of Robbins and west of Carthage.
This year, OSR is expanding its operation, rerouting roads and trails, starting on plans for a new, larger dining lodge. Scout campers and October camporees needed the area MASP used.
A Robbins motorcycle club, Brothers of the Horizon, made their campground available. It is closer to Robbins, but still a spot with clear, dark skies.
That closeness may mean more than the usual number of visitors, eager to learn from the crowd of astronomers and glimpse distant universes through their telescopes. Visitors are welcome, organizer John Dilday says, but he'll need help.
"We do want everyone who is naturally interested or even curious to have adequate opportunity to get to know MASP," Dilday said. "We want to encourage local participation but (we will need) to develop methods and volunteers for accommodating crowds such as entire classes from schools. We have two meetings planned in Robbins. Linda Koonce helping coordinate these meetings."
Koonce covers the Foothills for the Chamber of Commerce of Moore County. On Monday, Oct. 2, she's inviting interested people who want to help to meet John Dilday at the Robbins Area Public Library at 7 p.m.
"This meeting is for the purpose of engaging local volunteers in MASP 2006," Dilday says. "This includes people who are curious about the long-term opportunities MASP provides as well as those who are interested in helping this year."
People from Robbins STEP committee, town commissioners, and Mayor Mickey Brown will be there. Ronnie Thompson from the Brothers of the Horizon will bring a group. The door is open, and the welcome mat is out.
"This first meeting will cover a lot of bases," Dilday says. "The need for volunteers is really mostly for educational and community relations purposes. We need to understand what would make a good permanent site for MASP and the community."
Dilday will discuss the MASP details that benefit from community support. He'll talk on night lighting facts and fallacies, and introduce the concept of "light trespass" and other issues that relate to the way wasted light passes upward to make the overhead glow some call "light mud" that blurs our view of the stars.
"I will give a history of astronomical villages and my dream for a MASP permanent site," Dilday said.
An astronomical village, like one near Chiefland, Fla., is a real estate development model where home sites attract amateur astronomers who know they'll be able to use their telescopes without fear of light pollution.
Casting its destiny with the stars is most appropriate for Robbins, Brown says. The town was home to Astronaut Charles E. Brady, who first looked up at the night sky there -- and later, looked down from that sky at Robbins.
Once enough helpers are enrolled, Dilday and Robbins will call a second meeting, just before the star party.
"We want to schedule that next meeting early the week of MASP for the purpose of educating people who want to visit MASP after dark on 'star party etiquette,'" Dilday said.
That includes using red plastic sandwich bags to cover flashlights. White light has a persistence effect on the eyes that takes 20 minutes to decay before telescopes can again be effectively used.
It includes rules for visitors like "one adult for each two children so there's one hand per child" and "use only parking lights on cars as you approach the site" and others designed to help everyone enjoy the party, and the stars.
By next year, organized school groups will be encouraged. MASP will train this year, and be ready for 2007.
"We will not be equipped and trained for groups of school kids this year," Dilday said. "To do that right -- I believe -- involves organizing a group of MASP attendees who enjoy that type of program. The logistics of processing large groups of children effectively is important and needs attention that we can organize over the next year."
He's excited about MASP 2006, happy at the welcome Moore County is extending, eager to offer help with the Dark Park.
"This morning I awoke with a clarity of mind," Dilday wrote Brown recently. "I have visited Moore County since the Scout council acquired the first property, and this is the twelfth MASP."
He looks forward to a dreamed-of future day when every clear night will be a starry night over Moore -- new comets found, new asteroids discovered, distant novas first glimpsed and recorded -- by observers here.
"MASP is a guest in the community," Dilday said. "We are grateful for the hospitality and the invitation to find a permanent home. Most of all, we are grateful for the resolve to preserve the views of the night sky for 'the heavens declare the glory of God.'"
John Chappell can be reached at 783-5841 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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