When I joined the club (aaa.org) in 2007 we didn’t have anywhere near as many observing sites as we have today. One of the first regular observing sessions I attended was in Brooklyn Bridge Park with Rich Rosenberg, who was the club president at that time. On Thursday nights in July and August, Rich and Tony Dalileo could be found at the waterfront on Pier 1, operating the 8-inch Orion dobsonian telescopes supplied by the park conservancy. These stargazing sessions took place during the free movie viewings, then sponsored by the SyFy Channel.
In those days there were also fewer people in the park and Rich and Tony enjoyed showing the passers-by whatever celestial goodies were visible. After a time, Rich had stopped attending the Thursday night sessions. It became apparent to me that many more people were in other parts of the park, especially around the movie viewing lawn. I thought “Why not switch things up and try observing nearer to that area?” We tried this for about two seasons, and while we did have more visibility, I couldn’t help but feel that we were competing not just with the movie itself, but the harsh LED lighting on the nearby pathways.
The following year, the park conservancy decided to add food vendors at the waterfront in an effort to entice people to visit that area. So it was back to the waterfront! This time they squeezed us in between these vendors, and we barely had space to set up, again fighting bright lights and now food lines.
As I assumed the role of site coordinator, I began to think about how Brooklyn Bridge Park could best serve the club. I voiced my concerns about the issues we were facing to our contacts at the park conservancy, half expecting that they would be too busy to care. I explained that although the park was quite beautiful, offering unparalleled views of the city, it may no longer be a viable place for us to serve the public with stargazing.
Much to my surprise, they responded with what translated into a resounding “No, please don’t leave the park!” It turns out that we are considered a valued addition to the many programs the park offers, and it was clear that the conservancy very much wanted to keep the AAA stargazing sessions. In fact, they offered us astronomy nights only, away from other distractions, not on movie night, and with a staff of two volunteers dedicated just for this purpose. Great! Friday nights were my top choice, as there are lots of people strolling around taking in the views. Now the decision was where to set up. After Joe Delfausse and I had a walk-through with one of the conservancy event coordinators, and after some consultation with Otto Chin, where did we end up? Back at the waterfront! So you see, after all this trial and error, we have come full circle. I am happy to say that we will keep the AAA stargazing in Brooklyn Bridge Park.