I was perusing my new issue of Sky & Telescope a couple years ago when one particular article caught my eye. It was titled “A Star Walk for Everyone” and recounted the establishment of “the world’s first permanent star walk” by the group Project Nightflight. The Star Walk was located in the town of Grossmugl, Austria, about 30 minutes north of Vienna. As I read the article I became convinced that this was an outreach project that the Barnard Astronomical Society needed to do. I looked up Project Nightflight and found that they’re based in Vienna —where, as it happened, my wife and I were planning a trip later that year.
A Trip to Austria
I got in touch with Project Nightflightand asked if there were any way we could get together. The response was swift and enthusiastic. On December 21st, my wife and I found ourselves having tea with two of the most delightful people I have ever met: Erwin Matys and Karoline Mrazek of Project Nightflight.
After tea we headed to the town of Grossmugl. The evening was mostly cloudy, quite windy, and cold, but we examined each Star Walk station in detail — me taking photos and Erwin and Karoline describing their project. We discussed everything from the QR codes (they said they won’t do that again) to the size, thickness, and materials of the station signs. At the end of the trail, with the Sun setting and Venus peeking through the clouds, we enjoyed more hot tea in the shadow of the Leeberg (a 2,500-year-old burial mound). I was more convinced than ever that the Barnard Astronomical Society had to build a Star Walk in Chattanooga. Project Nightflight was completely on board, offering all of their ideas and designs for us to use however we wished.
Mission accomplished, I presented my report at the Society’s January 2015 meeting and broached my idea for the society to make its own Star Walk installation. The idea was met with enthusiasm, and a committee was formed.
Building a Star Walk
The Barnard Astronomical Society already had a relationship with Harrison Bay State Park, about 10 miles north of Chattanooga, and when we approached them with our idea it was enthusiastically embraced. The park had a ready-made site: a ½-mile looped walking path with a great view of the sky. Then the work of putting together our version of the Grossmugl Star Walk began.
We hiked the path at twilight, thinking about the Grossmugl stations and what we wanted to present in our version. The Grossmugl walk touched on some excellent topics, and we incorporated many of them in our Star Walk. One goal of our project was to incorporate local history and folklore. We also wanted to reach out to other disciplines, such as art, literature, and ecology, to show the breadth and depth to which astronomy is a part of the fabric of human civilization. We ended up with 13 ideas that ultimately became the focus of our Star Walk.
Over the next 18 months, topics were researched, text was written, and ideas refined. Our committee had a perfect mix of people, including a graphics designer and a mechanical engineer. Our designer created station signs that became functional works of art. Meanwhile, our engineer designed the mounting systems and oversaw the donation of materials, fabrication, and finishing. The Friends of Harrison Bay, a non-profit that supports the park, donated materials, equipment, and labor. Barnard Astronomical Society members pitched in with a variety of tasks leading to the public unveiling in September 2016.
The Star Walk's Grand Opening
Over 500 people attended the Grand Opening on September 10th. It was quite the festival, with door prizes, space music, speeches, and a grand ribbon cutting. Project Nightflight had sent their greetings for me to read, which was quite the highlight for me. The rain shower that popped up that evening did not dampen the enthusiasm for any of the people who attended, and the project was met with universal acclaim.
Now that the dust has settled, it is our hope that the Star Walk at Harrison Bay State Park will be used as an educational tool by the park, schools, scout groups, and the community. And we hope the walk will pique the curiosity of those who happen upon it and pause to look up and truly see the night sky.
Phase 2 of the Harrison Bay Star Walk will be the installation of a permanently-mounted 24-inch metal planisphere that will allow visitors to dial-in the current night sky. The Society would like to thank Sky & Telescope magazine for permission to use and adapt their planisphere graphics for this project.