This page has been reviewed for AHSP 2017 but is subject to change.

Rev. 2017 July 18

We used to have a really lengthy and unfriendly-sounding set of rules here, but think that they struck the wrong tone for AHSP. Here’s a summary of our policies:

  1. AHSP guests and staff have a well-deserved reputation for courtesy and consideration. Above all else, please help us uphold this reputation.
  2. AHSP guests are expected to comply with instructions from AHSP and Spruce Knob Mountain Center (SKMC) staff members. We’ll make every attempt to be reasonable and fair. In the end, though, our staff’s decisions are final.
  3. Leave your arsenal at home! We don’t allow firearms, fireworks, or chemical weapons of any kind at AHSP.
  4. We’re sorry, but we can’t permit you to bring pets with you to AHSP. Individual exceptions may be made for helper or assistance animals.
  5. Anyone under the age of 18 years must be accompanied by a parent or an adult guardian.
  6. Registrations and payments are final. The organizers of AHSP have to make commitments based on the projected number of attendees, so we regret that we can’t offer refunds if you’re unable to attend.

Common Sense

We’ve tried to enumerate items of potential concern in our policies, but in the end it all boils down to this: we expect AHSP attendees to exercise good judgement, courtesy, and common sense. We think you’ll find AHSP to be a warm, friendly event–and we’ll do our best to be flexible and accommodating whenever it’s possible to do so.

Problems

Don’t hesitate to contact AHSP staff on-site if a problem develops. We wear staff lanyards which are different color than the attendees and can also be reached via FRS radio on channel 1.


The following are some specific notes on policy questions that frequently arise.

Alcohol

Alcoholic beverages are permitted at AHSP. The legal age for the consumption of alcohol in West Virginia is 21 years of age. Should you choose to consume or serve alcohol, you do so at your own risk and are responsible for conformance with West Virginia law. Please exercise good judgement, courtesy, and common sense.

Camping Area

No alterations of the site are allowed. This includes digging holes, cutting trees, etc.

Fire Safety Rules

Please make sure everyone in the camp is familiar with the use of fire safety devices in the camp and fire safety in general. No open fires or briquet cooking allowed. Only camp stoves will be permitted and only for cooking. Having a fire extinguisher nearby is highly recommended.

Garbage Disposal and Recycling

As this is a remote location, no regular trash service is available. We’ll provide a garbage bag when you check in, and we ask that you take your campsite trash with you when you depart. Under no circumstances may garbage or refuse be burned.

Late Arrival

Attendees arriving after dark MUST NOT DRIVE VEHICLES past the designated late-arrival area near the entrance of Spruce Knob Mountain Center. AHSP guests who arrive after dark are welcome to camp in the late-arrival area, or they may walk up the hill (about 0.85 mile) to the main campsites—but vehicles must remain in the late-arrival area until morning. We know it’s a pain, but it’s important for the safety and comfort of AHSP guests. This has been a problem in past years, so we’ll take a break from our friendly tone to say this clearly: Guests who disregard this important instruction are likely to be denied access to AHSP without refund.

SKMC Emergency Contact Information

If you need to be contacted in an emergency, you cannot count on cellphone connections at SKMC, due to low cell tower density and mountain blockage.

Best way to reach you is for a message to be sent to your email, and for you to connect periodically via WiFI in the vicinity of the main yurts.

Alternatively, we can take a message at  info@ahsp.org or we can be called at the SKMC landline phone 304 567 2632. The phone is not monitored 24/7. Bring an FRS walkie-talkie, and we will call you. If that doesn’t work, we will post a message.

304 567 2644 is a backup. It reaches the SKMC staff residence after hours, not AHSP near the yurts.

Spruce Knob Mountain Center
18 Woodlands Way
Circleville, WV
304-567-2632 (days) or 304-567-2644 (after reg. hours)
fax: 304-567-2666

You should review the AHSP emergency plan at <http://www.ahsp.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/AHSP-Emergency-Plan-Jun-1-2017.pdf>

Lights and Laser Pointers

This is a dark site. Since it is very easy to lose your dark adaption, the use of glow sticks or any source of white light is prohibited. Only low-powered, red-filtered flashlights are permitted in the observing areas. Many red headlamps and flashlights are far too bright for use in such a dark sky. If you discover that you have such a device and would like some help with filtering, just ask a member of the AHSP staff.

We ask that participants not use laser pointers. They interfere with astrophotography, and can cause problems with dark adaptation for visual observers. AHSP staff may conduct a “star tour” just after dark as part of the formal program using a laser pointer.

Astrophotographers: please remember that your computer screens and associated equipment emit a lot of light. Consider the needs of visual observers around you when filtering your equipment and shielding it from view. If you’d like to be placed in a field location where a bit of stray light won’t bother observers around you, please let our staff know and we’ll do our best to accommodate you.

Cars now have many lights — courtesy lights — which cannot easily be disabled. Some automatically turn on when you simply approach or open a door. These are a particular problem on the Yellow and Green Fields, where vehicles are adjacent to observers. It is your responsibility to cover lights you cannot disable with dark tape for the duration of AHSP.

No On-site Registration

There is no on-site registration or drop-in attendance at AHSP. All registration must be made and acknowledged before arrival. Anyone without a completed registration before heading for SKMC will not be admitted.
You may add activities on site, up to the capacity of the activity and up to the cutoff time set by the activity coordinator. Speak to a volunteer at the reception tent.

Quiet Hours

Please be considerate of your neighbors and refrain from loud talking and playing loud music at all times.

We’re asked about generators every year. We think that you’re probably safe running very quiet portable generators from noon until 7 PM, but the bottom line is that you’re responsible for being quiet enough not to annoy fellow attendees at all times.

Smoking Policies

There is no smoking permitted in any building or public tent (including, but not limited to, dorms, bath house, session tents, or meeting room). Even outdoors, if your neighbors are offended by cigar or cigarette smoke, you’re the one who will have to move.

Please dispose of cigarette or cigar butts in a proper receptacle and be courteous of others when smoking in public areas. Dropping butts on the ground is dangerous and is not permitted.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Event information

Accommodations

Observing conditions and rules

Event information

Who, what, when, where, and why?

The Almost Heaven Star Party will be held Friday-Tuesday, July 21-25, 2017, at the Spruce Knob Mountain Center at Spruce Knob (Centerville), WV. AHSP is sponsored by NOVAC and is operated on a cost-recovery basis; the club expects to expend all fees received on the event itself. Spruce Knob is one of the premier dark-sky sites in the East! The Spruce Knob Mountain Center provides an outstanding observing location as well as civilized amenities like hot showers, meal service, and internet access. Directions available.

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For GPS users:
SKMC Entrance N 38° 40′ 25” W 079° 34′ 11”
Center of Main Observing Field N 38° 40′ 36” W 079° 34′ 02”
Center of CCD Imaging Area N 38° 41′ 10” W 079° 33′ 45”
RV Area / Yurts N 38° 41′ 00” W 079° 33′ 26”

How much is the event?

See our registration fees pages for a complete list of event costs.

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Is this event for me?

A truly dark sky is a sight that few get a chance to see. For amateur astronomers who are used to backyard astronomy in the light-polluted suburbs, the sky at Spruce Knob Mountain Center will be an experience that you won’t forget. While the trip takes some time, it will be worth it. However, if your idea of roughing it is a hotel that doesn’t offer turn-down service, you might want to pass. While the amenities at Spruce Knob Mountain Center make this far from a primitive site, camping is not for everyone. We recommend that you come prepared and have reasonable camping experience in order to fully enjoy AHSP.

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Will there be a tour of the radio telescope?

A group tour of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory is not possible this year. Public tours should be avaialbel before, during and after AHSP, each day, on the hour. We hope to again have a tour of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s facilities at Green Bank, West Virginia next year.

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If I have a telescope, but don’t know how to use it, can someone help me?

Yes! Bring your telescope. This is why star parties are so popular. There are always a lot of friendly and experienced people who will be happy to help you set up your equipment and to observe the sky.

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What if I don’t have a telescope?

Feel free to walk around and ask questions and ask to look through other people’s telescopes. Astronomers are a friendly bunch and most are more than willing to let you peek through their eyepieces. Don’t forget to bring binoculars if you have them. Many astronomical objects are best viewed through binoculars, and they also come in handy during the day for viewing birds and wildlife.

Especially if you are considering getting a telescope, you will have many opportunities to compare the various types, specific models, home-made & commercial, and cost ranges available.

The daytime talks will cover topics in observing and space related to astronomy.

You might also consider bringing a camera and tripod. Experienced astrophotographers can help get you started with photography at night.

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Aside from astronomy, what else is there to do?

This year we are planning to offer a wide range of outdoor activities, such as canoeing, nature hikes, geology, birding, and caving.

  • Explore nearby Spruce Knob Lake which offers boating, fishing, and hiking.
  • Enjoy the scenery, bring your camera and binoculars.
  • There are plenty of trails for hiking and biking. Guided hikes are led by participants and SKMC staff.
  • Check out the Monongahela National Forest.
  • We will have internet connectivity at the main facility areas, so you won’t be entirely cut off from the world.

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What presentations will be given, and by whom?

Check the AHSP event page for program updates and additions.

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Will there be power available to recharge batteries?

There’s no power on the field, but you’re welcome to recharge batteries behind the kitchen yurt. We’ll have power strips available so you can plug your charger in. We have a daily shuttle service planned to help get your battery packs to and from the power. 

The basic arrangements are along these lines:
  • You drop off your battery at a marked area in your observing field in the AM, and you mark with a provided tag or your own tag. Include your name and the field (color) you are on.
  • We bring the battery to the 110VAC power on tables near the main yurt.
  • You connect the battery to your charger
  • You disconnect when charging is complete, before dinner.
  • We return the battery to the original drop-off area.
As long as your battery lasts through the night, you should not have a problem. And on the topic of power, pay attention to having enough dew-prevention heaters, either electric or chemical.

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Accommodations

Can I camp and stay with my equipment?

In all the fields, you can camp with your observing equipment. You can keep your car or RV with you in the Yellow or Green observing fields. These spaces will go first, so be sure to register early.

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How many meals are being provided?

Meals are provided on a per day basis. You may choose the days that you would like meals during registration. Each “day” includes lunch and dinner and the following breakfast.

Example: Friday Lunch and Dinner with Saturday Breakfast for the first day.

Your badge will have information printed on it that will be good for one meal per sitting. If you lose your badge, a new one will be issued that invalidates your old one.

Here are this year’s menus.

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Can I have a campfire and cook my own meals?

You may not have a open campfire. You may, however, use self-contained stoves and chemical heating packs.

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How do I get around at the site?

SKMC is a large site. Please contact us (info at ahsp dot org) if you have mobility concerns; we’ll do our best to answer your questions and arrange assistance if needed.

The use of personal vehicles on the site is restricted. Moving your vehicle is not allowed from 8 pm to 8 am except in the case of an emergency. During other times vehicles are allowed to enter and exit the site. However, traffic beyond the long-term parking going towards the Yurt is prohibited without a permission by AHSP Staff.

Some attendees have brought bicycles and that seems to work well if you are interested in doing that.

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Is there any phone, radio, or Internet connectivity?

 

  • Due to the site’s remoteness and location within the National Radio Quiet Zone (NRQZ), don’t plan on having cell phone service or cell-based location service, data, OnStar, etc.
  • You may use and are encouraged to bring Family Radio Services (FRS) Radios.
  • Internet services will be available at the Main Yurt so you can access the web, your email, and upload photos. 
  • Phone service is available in the yurts and at the Earth Shelter. There is no charge for calls to destinations within the continental United States.

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Can I bring an FRS radio?

Absolutely!

We intend to make use channel 1 for general announcements this year, so bring a radio if you have one to take advantage of this information source. If you don’t already have a radio, consider getting one; they’re inexpensive and easy to use.:

 

Channel # Usage at AHSP
1 462.5625Mhz Announcements and high-priority traffic.
Event communications, emergencies, messaging, etc. We’ll make announcements to participants on this channel, and someone will be monitoring this channel all the time.
2 462.5875Mhz High volume/low priority traffic.
Event management/parking coordination, etc.

All other channels, 3 on up, are totally available for observer usage. (Considerations when buying an FRS radio.)

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Observing conditions and rules

Can I have any light on the field?

This is a dark site. Since it is very easy to lose your dark adaption, the use of glow sticks or any source of white light is prohibited. Only low-powered, red-filtered flashlights are permitted in the observing areas.

The prohibition also covers white lights inside tents which might be visible on the field. Lights in cars (dome lights, etc.) which may come on remotely or automatically need to be covered or adequately filtered.

Laser pointers may not be used, as they interfere with observers doing astrophotography. The one exception to this rule: we may conduct a “star tour” just after dark as part of the formal program using a laser pointer.

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Will there be power on the field?

We will not be running any power to the observing area. However, we will be providing 110 VAC power at the Main Yurt Shed for the purpose of charging batteries on a first-come, first-served basis as capacity allows. You are encouraged to bring sufficient battery power to operate your equipment.

Many observers use deep-cycle marine batteries or the smaller lawn tractor variety. Portable 12 VDC power packs with reasonable capacity are easily available at stores such as Costco or Wal-Mart for under $75.

To operate AC equipment you can also pick up a 12 VDC to 110 VAC inverter.

We will assist attendees in transporting the batteries to the main yurt for recharging. Details will be provided on site.

Very quiet generators may be used if they located far enough from others to not disturb neighbors.

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What will the temperature be like?

The observing field is 4300 feet above sea level. Expect a wide range of temperatures: heating during the day and quite rapid cooling  after sunset! Here’s a weather page for Spruce Knob.

Dress for cooler weather than in the lowlands, and in layers.

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Will the Moon be a problem?

No. The new moon will be on Sunday 23 July 2017. 

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Will there be observing during the day?

Actually, yes. Many astronomers have filters that allow observation of the Sun and we expect that several specialized hydrogen alpha scopes will be set up to observe amazing details like prominences and filaments.

During the day, there will be a number of astronomy-related presentations and hands-on demonstrations that you can attend.

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