History of StarWalk

 

StarWalk ģ is a family-oriented, fun and entertaining, yet educational naked-eye tour of the night sky. Targeted primarily to appeal to novice star-gazers and those who are unfamiliar with the stars, the presentationís format was developed by Jeri Turner as one of several Campsite Programs offered at Copper Breaks State Park in Hardeman County, Texas, where her husband David has served as manager since February 1996.

First offered publicly during the summer of 1996, StarWalk was created as a way to share with the parkís visitors a basic knowledge and understanding of the night sky, taking advantage of the parkís outstanding dark skies Ė a rapidly diminishing natural resource -- above the park at a time when light pollution is becoming an issue. Turnerís presentation soon attracted amateur astronomer and telescope builder Richard Brown of Carrollton, Texas, and together they began to develop a unique public astronomy program that has garnered national attention.

Focusing as much on natural wonder as natural science, Turner offers a blend of facts and folklore. The StarWalk program explores basic earth geometry, the paths of the sun, moon and the zodiac as a natural calendar, governing manís progress toward civilization from the earliest times. Major constellations in each of the four basic directions are located using a technique called "star-hopping." The math is matter-of-fact, the science is simple to understand, and the stories revealed about the sky will stay with the listener for nights to come. Greek and Roman myths, Celtic legends, Native American lore come to life in the lights overhead.

The popular and successful program is offered once a month from April through October, and is completely run and managed by volunteer Skyguides from Quanah, Wichita Falls, Lubbock, Amarillo, and the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex astronomical societies. These dedicated amateurs offer the public breathtaking views of deep space objects through their own equipment and over the years have provided StarWalk participants with access to some of the largest land-based telescopes anywhere, with mirrors ranging from 18 to 22 inches. Thanks to the efforts of StarWalk Skyguides, the public also has a chance to view planets and more through the largest binoculars available. In addition, the program has been honored by visits from some of the best known astronomical figures in the country, including Jim Sheets of Kansas and his mobile planetarium, and Tom Noe of Wylie, Texas, who builds some of the best portable telescopes in the world.

Copper Breaks State Park, named for the rugged canyons and carved hills laced with greenish bands of raw copper that mark this unique geological region, is located at the southern tip of the northernmost county in North Texas. To the west is the Texas Panhandle with its unique Caprock ecosystem, and on the horizon to the northeast rise the fabled Medicine Mounds, sacred to many Plains Indian tribes, particularly the Comanche, who claimed this area as their own before being forced into Oklahoma reservations. Bordered by the Pease River on the south and on the north by rolling prairies belonging to ranchers and farmers, the 1933-acre park opened to the public during the mid-1970s.

Today the park offers an outstanding interpretive center and museum, a range of camping options, a ten-mile trail system for hiking and mountain biking, as well as bird and wildlife watching, and fishing, wake-less boating and swimming in its 60-acre lake and other small ponds. It is home to several threatened wildlife species, such as the Mississippi Kite, the Kangaroo Rat and the endangered Horned Toad. It is also home to a small herd of Texas Longhorns from the state herd. A well-trained and dedicated staff of four, supported by the non-profit Quahadi Society friends group, offer an array of programs and presentations that include nature tours, feeding the Longhorns, Native American tools and weapons, flintknapping, Indian storytelling, hunter safety, outdoor fire safety, pond life, and many others.

Copper Breaks is located 13 miles south of Quanah, Texas, on State Hwy. 6. Quanah offers groceries and gas and a number of fast-food and local restaurants, as well as motel accommodations, RV sites, bed and breakfasts, and some limited automotive repairs. Known as the City of Legends, Quanah is named after Quanah Parker, the last chief of the Comanches. Recognized as a Texas Main Street City, its historic downtown features unique shops, cafes and antique stores.  For more information on Copper Breaks State Park, link to www.tpwd.state.us.gov