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The Webfooted Astronomer - October 2000

 

Tiger Mountain Opening to SAS

By Randy Johnson

THOSE of you at the last meeting of the SAS may recall that club member George Melendez announced that he was investigating the use of state Department of Natural Resources property located south of I-90 and adjacent to Hwy 18 on Tiger Mountain. Last week I met with him and the DNR forester responsible for land use of this property, Larry Fry.

We arrived together at the summit of the pass leading over Tiger Mountain shortly after 4 p.m. There is a small parking lot and two gated gravel roads leading up the mountainside. George gamely offered to chauffer our party up the mountain in his automobile saying that he thought it would be a good test of an average passenger car against the road conditions of the mountain. Larry said that would be fine and that he didn't anticipate any problem for us. The plan was to view several sites to assess how suitable they were as SAS observing sites.

The first site that Larry directed us to was located up the road through the left hand gate. During the week this gate is always locked and users need to lock themselves in and out of the gates, keeping them locked at all times. A quarter mile up the road is a slightly larger parking area that looked like it could accommodate 40-50 cars. Leading up the mountain beyond the parking lot is a second locked gate that requires lock in and out. During the weekend this second lot is used as a trail head for recreational users of roads and trails above. The lot is used as a launching point for the use of road and trail system by mountain bikers, equestrians, and hikers.

Limited motor vehicle access is given to special users of the gated roads above. We would be in this select group that presently includes hang glider pilots and parasailers, radio relay tower operators, and timber harvesters. One key would be issued to our group for astronomical purposes. Our use of the resource would hinge on our compatibility with the other tenants and users of the mountain. In our opinion, the best two sites for astronomy were located at Poo-Poo Point, which has been cleared and developed on West Tiger Mountain as a Hang glider launching site. This site is located approximately 7.3 miles beyond the first gate at the 1800-foot level.

The upper site, the north launch, has a lot that could accommodate 10-15 cars, has a composting toilet and good viewing area on the knoll used for launching. The ground is too mushy for driving out to the launch point, and we would not be allowed to drive on it. This would mean that you would need to pack your scopes and accessories 50-70 yards in from parking.

The south site sits a short distance down the mountain and would require a 5-10 minute hike to get to the toilet. On the plus side, the south side faces south, looking over the largely unpopulated and unlit territory near the Landsburg landfill. East and Southern views should be best from here. The south launch has a large grassy area that should be accessible with cars into the launch site. If you don't mind being a little further from the potty, this would be my choice.

Travel time to either of these points was about 25-30 minutes beyond the access gate at the summit of Hwy 18.

The gate is a bit of hassle as people will need to arrive on time and leave when the gatekeeper is ready to go home. On the other hand there is security in knowing that the riff-raff is locked out. We will be given a single key for year around access with the only quid pro quo being that we make ourselves available for public astronomy education (something we already do). Also we need to be sensitive to the other users, particularly the hang gliders, the ones who developed and maintain the site at Poo Poo Point, including installation and maintenance of the composting toilet (said to be a $30,000 installation). The good thing is that the other users will primarily be day users, and if we do our best to be unobtrusive and to be good neighbors, we should get along just fine. Thanks to George Melendez for his relentless tracking of the appropriate DNR authority and to Larry Fry for taking the time to meet with us and show us the sights and the sites of Tiger Mountain.

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