Here is the consolidated communications emails that went out from this year.  The latest one #4 is at the top.

AHSP 2017 Newsletter #4 sent July 12 2017 

This is the 4th and final Registrant Newsletter for AHSP 2017. We will see you in a week at SKMC.


AHSP 2017 sold out some weeks ago. Chris Lee continues to manage the informal waiting list, should anyone find they cannot attend and wish to swap registration with someone who is waiting. He is unlikely to be able to continue this past tomorrow.

We may be able to accept late registration on-site for the Spruce Knob summit hike (Sun. AM) and caving (Sun. PM). Additions are closed for the Beaver Dam hike, canoeing, and Cass RR.

All the speaker and event information has been updated on the web site. <> The almanac has been updated for 2017 with information for planning your planetary and sky observations. <>

Ian Carmack’s birding walk, Lyle Mars’ geology walk, and my hands-on celestial navigation are open to all comers.

Kids events

Kambridge Giles plans to host some organized time for board games in the upper level of the kitechen yurt on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday afternoons. Parents should stay and help supervise. Details will be in your registration package and updated on the message boards.

Arlen Raasch will again manage model rocketry during the weekend. This will be scheduled based on wind conditions and other safety considerations. Pay attention to announcements at AHSP.

And remember that there are special items reserved for younger participants during at the raffle Sunday before dinner.

Thinking about beginning astrophotography?

John Sojka will be speaking on starting in astrophotography, camera only and through the telescope. He suggests the following in preparation:

PHOTOGRAPHERS!  Make sure you bring your camera to the Saturday morning (9:30 AM) session of “Fun With Photons – Imaging the Night” to learn how to image objects at night without a flash, light paint, the moon, star trails, the Milky Way, and even a deep space object.  The session will cover camera sensor basics, so attendees can understand the camera settings and learn how and why to adjust them.

If you would like to attach your camera to a telescope, you will need to purchase two inexpensive items ahead of time: 1. A T-Ring for your brand of camera and 2. A T-Adapter that connects your camera, with T-Ring, to a telescope!  They can be found on eBay and Amazon.  You may also wish to contact your favorite astronomy or camera store for more information.  A good primer can be found on YouTube:

In addition, there are more talks on practical astrophotography by Kevin Quinn and Doug Murphy Satuday PM, and eclipse photography by Dan Ward as part of the eclipse seminar on Monday PM.

Last minute preparation

Please remember that no one can be admitted before 10:00 Friday. Information on the website gives suggestions for other campsites in the vicinity if you need to arrive in the area earlier.

Two other firm rules:

  • No onsite registrations. If Chris hasn’t _acknowledged_ that a person is registered, that person will not be admitted.
  • No cars can come or go after dusk.

You may find the “AHSP Checklist” useful as you make final preparations:


This summarizes the items we’ve mentioned in hints before, and has been updated based on past experience for 2017.

We will have one more telecon for last minute questions next Tuesday, July 18 at 7:00.  The dial-in number is 323-920-0091 with conference ID “1024009”. It will last about a half hour.

AV help

We can still use more volunteers to assist with video recording of our speakers in the yurt. Signup is at

By the way, thanks to all those who have volunteered to help at the registration tent early in the weekend.

Swap table

The organizing committee would like to put more emphasis on the swap table this year. Despite the name, the items are most often bought and sold, of course. Most of us have unused or underused equipment and accessories, and others have a list of things they would like to have at a good price.

We understand that the time slot — before dinner on Friday — may not be best for many. We would like to encourage more participation by those on-site, and we will consider different scheduling in the future.

To get things off to a faster start this year, we’ll send out a ‘Selling & Wanted’ list in advance, next Wednesday. Send me the items you have in those classifications. You can use this list even if you do not expect to be there in time for the swap table, but will have your items with you later in the weekend. Include your name, contact email during the weekend (remember, we have Web access near the Yurts), whether you’ll be at the table, and for each item whether it is ‘selling’ or ‘wanted’, and optionally price.

If your item is difficult to carry, you can drive to the area near the deck for as long as it takes for dropoff.

More info

As always, if you have questions or comments at any time, even during the event, send to and we will get back to you as soon as we can.

At AHSP, the volunteer staff will be identified by the orange lanyards for their nametags. They can either help, you find the person who can.

I’ll send specific information to Cass outing participants and speakers in the next day or two.

AHSP 2017 Newsletter #3 sent June 25 2017 

We’re sending out this third AHSP2017 Newsletter with updated information on AHSP plans. Less than 4 weeks to go! Note that we’re holding our first Q&A teleconference this Wednesday, June 28.
1. Registration status and available activities
·       0 registration spots left (except for adds to existing registered groups)
·       1 green field space remains, if someone decides to bring an RV
·       Beaver Dam hike is full
·       Cass railroad, summit hike, canoeing, and caving activities still have space. Cass tickets must be ordered by Monday July 10. The other events have limited capacity, first come first served.
·       SKMC meals can still be ordered, also only until Monday July 10
·       AHSP2017 shirts & caps can be ordered.
For any additions to your current registration, email to
Chris Lee is maintaining a waiting list for those who won’t be able to use their reservation to swap with those who missed the cutoff. If you can’t attend let him know; if a friend wants to be on the waiting list, let him know as well. However, there are already folks waiting for scarce cancellations.
An observation: You may have noticed that we don’t ask what days you will attend. From the slightly more than half of you who sign up for SMKC meals, we can roughly discern the distribution of overnight stays. The inferred distribution this year is roughly:  Fri 180; Sat 240; Sun 204; Mon 120. This seems to indicate more people staying longer than previous years.
2. Health topics
The SKMC staff reports there have been no ticks found on campers on the mountaintop. The few discovered have been on hikers coming up. No guarantees that the situation will stay, but the area has always been notable for its lack of bothersome insects – or larger pests, for that matter.
We will keep on reminding you to bring containers so you can drink LOTS of water. We thought of offering souvenir water bottles, but we tried that one year and they all looked enough alike that no one knew whose was whose. Bring your own bulk carrier and water bottles/containers, mark them, and drink _before_ you feel thirsty. Even if you do not feel sweaty, the dry, breezy air takes water out of you. There will be waster at a hose on the road near the camping area, at the kitchen yurt, and at the wash house. Good, local mountain well water, by the way.
While it is somewhat long and lacks much plot, Richard Grauel works hard each year to coordinate with SKMC and local authorities to update an emergency plan for AHSP. You should at least take a quick look at the contents. It covers the two main concerns, fire and injuries. The former is primarily a concern in dry years – that remains to be seen in the weeks until AHSP. That is why we prohibit open fires, and worry about propane and other permitted stoves. The latter can happen at any time. We have been lucky to have had no(?) serious accidents, and few cases of illness. The concern we have is the distance to medical facilities in Elkins or Harrisburg. We and SKMC have first aid supplies and AEDs on site, and people trained to use them. Most frequent complaints have been sunburn, bad food reactions (kids), and light-headedness from some combination of dehydration, altitude, exertion, and lack of sleep. Take care of yourself and your family, and keep a helpful eye on your neighbors.
If you or a member of your party has medical/emergency training (first responder, professional, etc.), please let us know at so that we can call on you in the unlikely case you are needed. FRS radio provided. Similarly, if you have medical condition that might require attention or assistance, let us know. The information will be kept in confidence.
3. Other updates
SKMC continues to maintain and try to improve the site internal road “Woodlands Way”.
The grass will be cut on the fields we use.
The rapid dishwasher has arrived! We wash our own dishes no more.
A new circulating fan in the main yurt should make it more comfortable, especially for afternoon talks.
4. Help wanted
Speaker. We have one tentative opening for a speaker on Monday morning. If any of you is interested with a topic that fits the themes of astronomy and observing, please contact me directly.
AV help. With their permission, we record our speakers and make their presentations available. We are always looking for a few folks who can make sure the speaker’s mike is attached and the equipment all working, and can operate the camera during each presentation. This is easy, especially if you plan to attend talks anyway (and who wouldn’t?) Trying to combine this task with the MC has not worked well, so the jobs are now split. If you can take a few of the ~one-hour shifts, please go to the signup manager at – This will allow you to sign up to run the AV for events! There are 16 slots covering Friday evening – Monday evening.
5. Communications
At last, we will also have our first Q&A telecon (of one or two) to discuss the event and answer questions. We plan to hold this next Wednesday, June 28 at 7:00 p.m. EDT. The dial-in number is 323-920-0091 with PIN “1024009”. It will last about a half hour or until your questions are all answered.
There will be one more Newsletter before AHSP with updated information as needed.
At any time, you can ask any question not answered on the website by contacting <>.

AHSP 2017 Newsletter #2 sent June 04 2017 

1. Registration status and available activities
·       0 spots left (except for adds to existing registrations)
·       1 green field space remains, if someone decides to bring an RV
·       Beaver Dam hike is full
·       Cass railroad, summit hike, canoeing, and caving activities still have space
·       SKMC meals can be ordered
·       apparel can be pre-ordered
For any additions to your current registration, email to <>
2. Weather at SKMC
Courtesy of NOVAC and AHSP, for the last 1+ year SKMC has had a automated weather station KWVCIRCL4 which can be accessed on thewunderground network. Unfortunately, cloudcover is not measured.
Reviewing the data collected over 31 days around July 23 last year (2016 JUL 08 – AUG 07), we’ve found the following summary conditions related to comfort and observing
  • daily highs above 80       4
  • daily low below 55         5
  • dew point above 65         2
  • 24h precip >0.1            6
  • daily peak gust 15+       13
  • daily avg. wind 0-2       23
3. Shameless commerce division
While not a major part of AHSP, buying and selling will take place
  • A ‘swap table’ is scheduled for Friday afternoon on the deck. Bring your unwanted astronomical gear, or bring cash and pick up a bargain. I will again have aluminized woven plastic tarp material that makes a protective and cooling cover for your telescope – and cheap.
  • Two of our speakers are distinguished authors of books for amateurs.  
    • Prof. Mike Reynolds will have copies of three books – Binocular Stargazing (2005)Falling Stars: A Guide to Meteors & Meteorites (2010), and Observe Eclipses! (Astronomical League 1995)
    • Jerry Hubbell will have copies of two books – Scientific Astrophotography: How Amateurs Can Generate and Use Professional Imaging Data, 2012; and Remote Observatories for Amateur Astronomers: Using High-Powered Telescopes from Home, 2015 — both from The Patrick Moore Practical Astronomy Series from Springer.
  • Explore Scientific will be at AHSP with a tent to demo (day & night) some of its items: a telescope mount (EXOS 2 GT PMC-Eight); a telescope (FCD100 102 EDAPO CF ); and eyepieces (100 deg 20 mm, 82 deg 30 mm, 82 deg 14 mm , 82 deg 8.8 mm). They will offer all items in their catalog with a 15% discount on the Minimum Advertised Price and take orders for shipment from their factory direct to you. Explore has also donated eyepieces to the raffle on Sunday.
4. Speakers
Essentially all the speakers have been scheduled. This information can be found on the Events Overview. Note the expert panel on Monday afternoon we have organized for those of you planning to be on the solar eclipse centerline a month later.
5. Information you can use
Here is a quick directory to information you can use before AHSP. All AHSP2017 information either has been or will soon be updated. You should at least browse these before heading for the star party. In particular, the “planning notes” include updated versions of hints from previous year’s newsletters. We know there is some overlap and duplication, but we know of no conflicting information.
About AHSP
·       Event photos
·       Policies & FAQs
·       Emergency Plan
Directions & location (directory page:)
·       Camping and amenities
·       Local attractions
Planning notes
·       General camping & observing notes
·       Preparations checklist
·       Planning your trip
·       Observing lists
·       Solar system and almanac
6. Communications
There will be two more Newsletters before AHSP with updated information as needed.
We will also have at least one telecon to discuss the event and answer questions. Date and time have not been set.
At any time, you can ask any question not answered on the website by contacting <>.
7. The AHSP committee & volunteers
To give you an idea of what it takes to get AHSP organized and run, here is a list of the current committee and their areas of contribution. These are the folks who will be on hand at AHSP with distinctive lanyards who can either answer questions or help resolve problems. In addition, there are all the volunteer speakers, those who help with registration, and the SKMC staff who always go the extra mile to make the event a success.
Chris Lee – chairman; SKMC coordination; registration; website; apparel; dorm coordination; teardown
Skip Bird – sky tour; general
Marty Bordelon — raffle coordination; field layout; teardown
Terry Cabell – first aid prep; registration & check-in
Ian Carmack — birding tour
Jo Charlton– activities launch; dorm coordination; presenter coordination
Elizabeth Erickson – activities launch; dorm coordination
Kambridge Giles – rocketry; prize recording; activities launch; kids activities
Alan Goldberg – program; observing almanac; Cass outing; attendee communications; website
Richard Grauel — battery charging shuttle; site safety; first aid prep; field layout
Wade Hampton — general
Lyle Mars – geology hike; field layout
Sean Mathews — meal coordination; teardown
Shauna Mathews– parking setup & ops; registration & check-in
John McDonnell – publicity; observing lists; vendors; raffle
Euro Micelli – gate operations; raffle; teardown
Zack Panitzke – website; general
Arlen Raasch — materiel logistics; rocketry; first aid prep; teardown
Patricia Rostkowski– staff supplies; registration & check-in
Kathryn Scott – raffle; presenter coordination; field layout
James Stack – tent arrangements
Dan Ward – Cass outing

AHSP 2017 Newsletter #2 sent June 04 2017 

Welcome to the first registrant newsletter for Almost Heaven Star Party 2017! The volunteer committee will be sending out several newsletters between now and AHSP2017 opening the gates on Friday July 21. We hope these will help you prepare for an enjoyable weekend of observing, relaxation, and hanging with friends.


Over 80% of spots at AHSP are already reserved. As of this writing (Tuesday May 9), all options are still available for new registrants, although only one spot in the RV field and just one spot for the Beaver Dam hike remain. Any friends who have not yet registered should act soon. Similarly, if you want to add an activity to your existing registration, you should do so soon by contacting

What’s new this year

The biggest change this year is scheduling earlier in the summer to avoid conflicting with the total solar eclipse. This means statistically warmer days and warmer nights, but in the mountain climate above 4000 ft. everything should be quite comfortable. It also means more time to prepare equipment between the after-dinner talks and twilight.

The Mountain Institute (TMI), our host over the past 12 years, has reorganized. Spruce Knob Mountain Center (SKMC) is now separate from the other cultural and environmental awareness activities of TMI. As a result, we are more properly referring to our site as SKMC. You will see this now on the AHSP website. The staff and policies remain the same. “Experience Learning” is the new parent organization. The SKMC website is .

In response to participants who have taken advantage of cooked meals in the past, starting this year WE WILL NOT NEED TO WASH OUR OWN DISHES!

Due to a scheduling conflict, we will not be able to offer the group tour and overnight observing at NRAO. Anyone interested is welcome to take a public tour of NRAO either before, during, or after AHSP. Taking advantage of this time slot, SKMC staff will lead a new environmental hike to a nearby beaver dam.

As part of the daytime speaker program, we will have a special session on Monday afternoon for those planning to travel to the eclipse center line. (If you have not already made arrangements to get to the path of totality, you should do so soon. Accommodations are already scarce, and travel to the centerline may be difficult in many areas.)  For those who will be in totality, this session will help you plan for what to expect and what you can see and record around and during totality.

Other speakers and topics have been added on the Events Schedule. . We will have a full schedule of talks and events from Friday afternoon through Monday evening.


What stays the same

  • Dark sky observing on the highest ridge in WV – check
  • Home cooked meals by the SKMC staff – check
  • Showers and indoor plumbing – check
  • Full program of talks and demonstrations, including kids’ activities, nature hikes and outings – check
  • Internet access and battery charging at the Yurts – check
  • Cass Railroad outing – check
  • Newly designed hats and shirts – check

If you wish to add any of these items that you missed with registration, send your request to

Still to come

Future newsletters will point out specific material on the website that will help your planning, especially if you are a first-timer. We are actively updating material on the site for AHSP2017.

If you have questions, you can check the website first, and send any remaining questions or special requests to

We will repeat our successful information teleconferences several times in the next few weeks, to answer questions of individual or group interest. All are welcome to dial in.

Also, we are still looking for a few volunteers to help with various tasks on-site. Let us know at if you can help.


As a reminder of how good AHSP can be, follow this link <  > to photos from last year, both of the sky and of the event.