DEL NORTE — For the first time in just over a year, the Lookout Mountain Observatory Association will be hosting its monthly public meeting and afterward there will be a Star Party. The observatory has been a part of Del Norte’s history ever since the late 1800’s and helped shape Del Norte and surrounding communities.
Though the original structure has long since moved on, the new observatory still serves as a reminder of those days and is an opportunity for stargazers to view the night sky in Del Norte. Del Norte, like many Valley communities offers a unique chance to see the night sky in ways that are otherwise impossible to see thanks to the efforts of the Lookout Mountain Association. The association has worked to make Del Norte a Dark Sky community, though it has yet to get a national designation.
According to previous reports from Alva Hibbs, a member of the association, the Lookout Mountain Observatory Association began efforts in the early 1990’s to locate the original Brashear telescope and rebuild the large observatory that was located there from 1886 until 1901. Although this is still a goal, the Leo Fontenot Memorial Observatory is a secondary project located on the prominent hilltop behind the Rio Grande County Court House.
The clam shell dome was imported from a manufacturer in Canada and assembled and installed by the association members. The roll-off roof observatory was built by club members from existing plans. One of the members was a construction contractor and oversaw the project. Another member was an electrician with heavy equipment who provided much-needed work. All the labor was donated, including the hilltop one-acre property and telescopes.
Members of the association have worked countless hours to bring this once-beloved attraction back to the Del Norte area and finally succeeded 103 years later when the new observatory was finished in 2004. Through combined efforts of volunteers, the community and members of the association, the Leo Fontenot Memorial Observatory now resides in a perfect location just behind the county building in Del Norte.
It was built for educational purposes and use by active amateur astronomers. The 1-acre plus property, a modern ‘clam shell’-type dome, a roll-off roof observatory, and two large professional-grade telescopes were donated to the Association.
While the association was still working to build the new observatory, they passed an ordinance in partnership with Xcel Energy and the Town of Del Norte in the early 1990’s to replace the town’s street lighting with low-light fixtures that were aimed toward the ground as part of the early Dark Sky preservation initiative. The lights were replaced and have been maintained throughout the area.
Per the ordinance 597, “The town board finds that this ordinance is necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health and safety and shall take effect and be enforced from and after passage of the same.”
The association meets at the county annex building on preselected dates when viewing conditions are best and public star parties are announced prior to the date in local media outlets as well as through their email announcements.
The meeting will take place at the Rio Grande County Annex Building in Del Norte on June 19 at 7 p.m. People are asked to bring a flashlight as the group will walk to the observatory after the meeting.
Membership fees are $25 per person or family. Thereafter, annual dues are $25 per person or family at the beginning of each year. Students are free and exempted from any dues in order to encourage their membership.
The association is seeking new interest in the observatory and continue to encourage local schools, organizations and other public entities to join.
For more information or to sign up as a member, contact Hibbs at [email protected]