John E. Spindler
The purpose of my article is two-fold. First, I'd like to describe the Perseid Meteor Shower viewing experience I had while camping, and second, to honor another declining dark sky site. On the weekend of August 10-11, 2001, I went camping with my father, uncle and cousin. As this was one last family rendezvous before some relatives had to go back to school, we decided to stay at a camp site known for good observing, Apple River Canyon State Park (ARC SP). For those unfamiliar with it, ARC SP is located about 10 miles North of Hwy 20 near Stockton, Illinois. Both nights were excellent and my uncle and I set up our scopes, while Dad just did binocular observing.
For my observations, I was able knock off about ten Messier objects in the two nights. It may not seem like a lot, but I took the scope in by 22:30 each night in order to sit back and enjoy the meteor show. The first night I saw 6 in an hour plus I'm pretty sure I saw the International Space Station. August 11th was much better; in three hours of viewing I counted 27 meteors, of which the best was a blue colored meteor that streaked brightly for 5-10 seconds then faded briefly before brightening again for another 15 seconds. Unfortunately, as a couple of LCAS members will attest, ARC SP is not the excellent astronomical site it was in the past. It had been fifteen years since our family had camped at ARC SP, so Dad and I were very surprised at what we saw. The campgrounds where we have always stayed is a loop with about eight sites on the interior of the loop. Fifteen years ago, the interior sites were in a prairie setting with vegetation 3-feet high at the most. On this weekend, we thought we were at the wrong place. Trees and shrubs were quite tall (the effects of Father Time).
My uncle had gotten there first and claimed four of the interior sites. After talking to a couple of astronomers who camp there on every new moon, we happen to have taken the second best site for viewing. We learned that the number of good viewing sites is down to three out of the fifty campsites. The other bad news we discovered was that ARC SP was no longer the astronomer's secret place. Last time we stayed there, only five to seven sites would be occupied on the weekend, whereas during our current stay only four to six sites were unoccupied (that included two sites reserved for the handicapped). Although the skies are dark, ARC SP is no longer the site for astronomical viewing it once was. Hopefully, skies will be clear in November for the Leonids.