[Black Forest Star Party 2005]
Last Updated 08.12.2015
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The Black Forest Star Party (BFSP) is hosted annually by the Central Pennsylvania Observers.  It's been held at Cherry Springs State Park, located in Potter County, Pennsylvania, since its inception in 1999.  Cherry Springs is 48 acres in size and is surrounded by the 262,000 acre Susquehannock State Forest.  The observing field is at the top of a 2,300 foot high mountain.  In 2000, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) declared Cherry Springs the first Dark Sky Park.  The nearest town, Coudersport, is located 10 miles to the northwest of Cherry Springs and has a population of about 3,000.  Other communities are closer to Cherry Springs, but they are even smaller and located in valleys, which shield the park from any stray light.  Basically, Cherry Springs will stay dark for a long time.

The 2005 Black Forest Star Party was held from September 2nd – 4th.  Fellow Kalamazoo Astronomical Society (KAS) member Jean DeMott and I sent in the $25 registration fee in late June to ensure our spot at the star party.  Black Forest is limited to 425 participants and it usually fills up very quickly.  It would be nice if they had a ticket system like the Winter Star Party; that way if someone had to cancel their trip they could sell their ticket on Astromart.  I tried to talk several other members of the KAS into going to Black Forest with us, but no one could fit it into their schedules.

I watched the weather forecast very closely leading up to Black Forest.  It wasn't looking ideal at first, so Jean and I were very close to backing out of the trip.  We were being very hesitant for two reasons.  The remnants of Hurricane Katrina passed over Cherry Springs a few days before the star party was scheduled to begin, so I was afraid the observing field would be a mud pit.  I read that something similar happened with Hurricane Frances during the 2004 BFSP.  Also, due to Hurricane Katrina, gas prices were sky high; averaging around $3.50 / gallon.  However, as the week leading up to BFSP progressed the forecast got better and better.  The observing field would have plenty of time to dry up before our arrival.  The absolutely perfect forecast is the only thing that kept us from staying home.  In fact, this is the first time I've attended a star party without getting rained on (including the 2001 and 2002 Texas Star Party).

So, with perfect weather, Jean and I hit the road at about 11:00 am on Friday, September 2nd.  The only noteworthy thing that occurred during our 8 hour trip was in Cleveland, Ohio.  Traffic was pretty heavy on I-90 and at times was at a stand still.  This put us a little behind schedule, but the show overhead was worth it.  The Thunderbirds were performing an air show almost right in front of us.  We know it was them because they came close enough to see the markings on their F-16 Falcon jets!

We finally arrived at Cherry Springs at about 7:00 pm and checked ourselves in at the registration tent.  They had you wear a wristband for the weekend, which bugged me to no end.  Another thing that I was disappointed about was the lack of star party T-shirts.  This is something I think they should remedy.  It's a great way to generate extra funds as well.  We then had to find a place to set up camp, but this was easier said than done.  It was already pretty crowded and all the choice spots (at least for astrophotography) were already taken.  I was also hoping to find a spot with power nearby, but those were already being monopolized by other attendees.  Fortunately, I had come prepared to supply my own power for the weekend.  Jean and I finally settled in a spot on the east side of the park around some tree stumps left over from the Woodsmen's Show, which has been held at Cherry Springs since 1952.

Later, we learned that Cherry Springs is open to stargazers almost year round.  You only have to pay a couple of dollars for an all night observing run.  So, when I attend future BFSP's, I think I'll plan to arrive at least a day or two early, so I can get a spot on the west side of the park.  That's the preferred side of the park for imagers.



It was starting to get dark after Jean and I set up my Kendrick Observatory Tent and her small dome tent and I still had to setup my equipment.  Once that was completed our stomachs said it was time for dinner, so we walked over to May's Munchables who was providing food 24 hours a day.  They had the usual assortment of sandwiches and soup.  Good enough to get you through a night and at reasonable prices.  Fox's Pizza was also setup at the park on Saturday, but we never made it over there.  Unfortunately, there are no restaurants within the vicinity of the park.  You'd probably have to head in to Coudersport for a sit down meal.

I spent the majority of the night doing some visual observing.  I went through my usual array of deep sky objects, just to compare the view from different locales, and tracked down some new objects as well.  Just before turning in for the night I polar drift aligned my 10” LX200 Schmidt-Cassegrain for imaging the next night.

Morning came and my first objective was to have breakfast and take a shower.  Unfortunately, Cherry Springs has no shower facilities, so we had to drive to Ole Bull State Park which is about a 25 minute drive to the south.  We then returned to Cherry Springs in time for the afternoon presentations.  The first one was at 1:15 pm and was presented by Roger Clark who is the founder of Taurus Technologies.  His lecture was called “Astrophotography of Galaxies” and was about the differences in the quality of images between DSLR, film, and CCD cameras.  Obviously CCD was the best medium, but he actually put film ahead of digital imaging (which I do not agree with for many reasons).

The next lecture was given by the well known astronomy educator Thom Bemus.  His lecture was called “Open Your Eyes to the Wide Sky” and was about observing with binoculars.  A beginner's talk for sure, but I'm always looking for ideas for the beginner talks I give.  Next up was Warren Keller who gave the presentation “IP-4-AP:  Image Processing for Astrophotography”.  He gave a detailed demonstration on processing images with Adobe Photoshop.

We then had a little time before the keynote speaker to enter the Door Prize drawing.  Well, they call it a Door Prize drawing, but it should really be called a raffle.  Instead of dropping your ticket into one large container you can select the prize you want to win.  Plus, you can buy as many extra tickets as you want so you can stuff one box to increase your chances or enter for multiple prizes.  Certainly a different way of doing things and I'm kind of split on my opinion about it.  Maybe it would have been different if I actually won something!

The keynote speaker was the author of NightWatch and the Editor of SkyNews magazine, Terrence Dickinson.  His presentation was called “Digital SLRs:  The New Revolution in Personal Astrophotography”.  He showed some images he took around the Cherry Springs observing field on Friday night with a Hutech modified Canon 20D camera.  Incredible images for such a minimum amount of effort.  It was an excellent presentation.

After Terrence completed his lecture, a DCNR park ranger named Chip Harrison talked about the future upgrades to the observing field and their efforts to ensure that Cherry Springs stays dark for many years to come.  They have a great thing going in Potter County and the good thing is they know it.  It would be nice if they could also install showers at the park, but Chip says this is impossible due to the geology of the area.  Another thing I think should be done is to rebuild the Pavilion where the lectures are held.  Fortunately, I always managed to get a seat up front, but several wooden pillars blocked peoples view from the back.  Plus, the Pavilion is completely open to the outside, so that probably made it difficult to see the images on the screen from way in the back.

Jean and I hit May's Munchables again before another long, great night of observing.  Jean attended a binocular workshop held my Thom Bemus at 9:30 pm and I got ready to do some imaging with my Canon 300D DSLR camera.  My main targets were the Lagoon and Trifid Nebula (M8 & M20), the Double Cluster (NGC 869 & 884), the Andromeda Galaxy (M31), and the Pleiades (M45).  All my images were taken through my Tele Vue 70 mm Pronto, which I piggybacked on my LX200.  I did stop a do a little visual observing from time to time as well.

Both nights of observing were excellent; no clouds and very little dew.  However, it did get very cold on Saturday night, so make sure you pack your winter observing cloths!  The quality of the night sky at Cherry Springs is fantastic – probably one of the best sights (if not the best) east of the Mississippi River.  There are no light domes visible in any direction.  Black Forest is definitely a star party I plan to attend several more times in the years to come.

Article by Richard Bell
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