Oregon’s often brilliant 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 Park this summer where the night sky is the drawing card for hundreds who attend OMSI’s Star Parties. So bundle up for nighttime outdoor adventure, where stars and planets dazzle and amaze.
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 Todd, 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 event for the past decade.
Allie Westfall is a State Park Ranger at Stub Stewart State Park who said that Star Parties are true assets for the park.
Star Parties are not celebrity shin-digs, but wonderful, 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 visitors to feel as though each could reach out and touch the Moon’s craters or Saturn’s rings.
Club members 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 for the event, and she admitted that they had never seen anything like it before.
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.” Neal 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 on a path to explore the universe with his telescope.
“When John Kennedy made the announcement about sending people to the moon,” added Todd. “It wasn’t because it was going to be easy – it was hard! That has been a personal goal for me too. Everybody is enjoying themselves – 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 State Park and Rooster Rock State Park along the Columbia River. And don’t forget the granddaddy of them all: the famous Oregon Star Party is held each August in the Ochoco National Forest near Prineville.
About the Author: Grant McOmie
Grant McOmie is a Pacific Northwest broadcast journalist, teacher and author who writes and produces stories and special programs about the people, places, outdoor activities and environmental issues of the Pacific Northwest. A fifth generation Oregon native, Grant’s roots run deepest in the central Oregon region near Prineville and Redmond where his family continues to live.
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