Oregon’s often brilliant sunny summer days offer varied recreation possibilities that continue after the sun goes down at two Oregon State Parks.
You may choose to visit either Rooster Rock or Stub Stewart State Parks this summer where the night sky is the drawing card for hundreds who attend OMSI’s Star Parties.
When the summer sun goes down, most folks call it a day!
But not Jim Todd!
He puts in long hours after the sun sets so you can better understand the secrets of the night sky: “Families, children, people in wheelchairs –everyone is welcome to join us and we try to accommodate them as much as we can,” noted OMSI’s Chief Astronomer.
Todd is OMSI’s point man to the stars – the head astronomer who manages the monthly ‘Star Parties’ at Stub Stewart State Park in Washington County.
“We try to engage with the public at all levels,” said Todd. “This is what we’re going to look at tonight and why it’s so interesting and fascinating – plus, the science behind it.”
OMSI’s Star Parties date back more than 20 years and Todd has been heading up the Stub Stewart SP event for the past decade.
Allie Westfall is a State Park Ranger at Stub Stewart SP who said that Star Parties are true assets for the park: ”Throughout the day we tell our campers about it, do some roving around the park spreading the word. We have many people who travel from the Portland area to attend too. It’s quite popular.”
Star Parties are not celebrity shin-digs, but wonderful, even magical gatherings of folks who are curious about the stars and planets.
The events depend upon volunteers like Ron McBain and his fellow astronomers from the Rose City Astronomers Club.
McBain and a dozen club members show up at the park early and set up their telescopes that allow you to feel as though you could reach out and touch the Moon’s craters or Saturn’s rings.
They also provide an invaluable education resource as they explain to visitors exactly what they are looking at.
“Many young people have never seen the moon or stars or Saturn through a telescope,” said McBain. “They are just amazed at what they see at night. Anyone can do it too – even with binoculars - and see marvelous things. I really enjoy and love the reaction of the young people.”
Star Parties occur once a month from May through September on nights when the stars dazzle and the planets amaze park visitors like Raylea Pickett – she and her daughter traveled to Stub Stewart SP for the event.
She admitted that they had never seen anything like it before: “We’ve heard about them (Star Parties) for years but this is our first time venturing out and it’s a great activity for kids of all ages.”
Jim Todd told the large audience that his lifelong enthusiasm for the wonders of space was born 44 years ago --- on this very night!
“The Apollo 11 landing on the moon!” said Todd. “That singular event helped motivate me to get close to astronomy and space science.”
Neil Armstrong’s famous line as he stepped on the moon in 1969: “One small step for man – one giant leap for mankind,” inspired then 8-year old Jim Todd to travel a path that led to exploring the universe with his telescope.
“When John Kennedy made the announcement about sending people to the moon,” added Todd. “He said it wasn’t going to be easy - it was hard. That has been a personal goal for me too. Everybody is enjoying themselves tonight – really having a great time. What a perfect evening and the best part of my job is helping to create this kind of atmosphere.”
OMSI and Oregon State Parks have more star parties scheduled on August 12 and September 21 at Stub Stewart SP and Rooster Rock SP along the Columbia River.
Don’t forget the grand-daddy of them all; the famous “Oregon Star Party” is held each August in the Ochoco National Forest near Prineville.