What’s the Difference Between a Public Star Party and a Club Star Party?


It’s Complicated!

One of the funniest Mad magazine comic strips I ever read was their explanation of how to keep score in bowling.  Had me in stitches. I can’t help but think of the arrows and rule changes and exceptions and footnotes as I tackle the job of explaining the difference between our various star parties, locations and policies, especially for members who haven’t been here for the last couple of decades to watch our policies unfold.  So, with all the confidence of Alfred E. Newman, here is an attempt to clear up some questions.

Public Star Parties

Public star parties are sponsored by OMSI. They are advertised to the public by OMSI and they aim for the non-observing public. They are meant to be family events for entertainment and education.  Think kids and dogs.  RCA members bring their own telescopes to these events without hope of getting any of their own observing done; we go only to serve and inform.  OMSI events are held at Stub Stewart and most of the time at Rooster Rock State Parks, though occasionally there might be a change in location based on various contingencies.  Be sure to watch for OMSI announcement by email to our membership or on the Forum.  We have information on our website for folks who are attending their first star party, and who are volunteering at a public star party. 

Club Star Parties

A club star party is for “members only,” though of course we allow and expect that members sometimes come with family members and/or guests.  Club star parties are meant to be smaller events, quieter and more focused.  Perhaps the word “party” is misleading; if you’re a true night sky nerd, then being out in the countryside under a dark canvas of sky with a telescope and a few friends is a party.  We offer these events so members can get some serious observing done. We do not go with the intention of providing a program. We expect that everyone attending will have their own equipment and observing plan, and will have at least basic good manners when it comes to managing light on the observing field. We have information on our website for members attending one of our club star parties and a general Code of Conduct for all RCA events.  One major difference between a public and a club star party is who provides the insurance. At RCA club parties, we do. Also, RCA club star parties are not advertised to the public or announced on Facebook.

What’s the difference between an Sky View Acres (SVA) and a Maupin star party?

We have to set our calendar for the next year’s star party schedule in August of the previous year, which means that when we set our dates, we have no idea what the weather will be like that far in advance.  In 2018, as we pondered our choices, we decided to offer alternative locations on Camp Hancock weekends because there are so few places available at Hancock.  We chose Maupin, because it’s a popular location with great skies if the weather is good, and Sky View Acres because a number of members have already been using it informally for quite a while and we thought it was about time to introduce it to our general membership. We left the decision regarding which location to use for a specific RCA event until we had a better idea of what the conditions would be at each place.

Now pay attention, because this is important. Sky View Acres is private property just outside of Goldendale. The owner has given us blanket permission to use his land for observing - - anyone, any time, like the permission we have at Stub Stewart.  However, when you are out there on an unscheduled night or weekend, you are not covered by RCA’s insurance, and you have to use the portapotty provided by the owner, or bring an RV so you can use your own.  There are a few other conditions, which are described on our Forum, since the owner lives in Vancouver and often asks for a ride out to his property. If and when RCA schedules an event at SVA, we will provide the sanitation, and our insurance would cover you during the scheduled hours and days of our star party. 

Maupin is also private property, officially called the Wapinitia Air Strip. It’s located near the town of Maupin, on the shoulders of majestic Mt. Hood. There, we do NOT have blanket permission to use the property as we wish.  We can only go there at scheduled times and dates, and we have to be aware of the owner’s wishes regarding his land, and we cannot arrive early or stay late. RCA provides the sanitation, and our insurance covers our members during the scheduled times.  One important difference between SVA and Maupin is that at Maupin, unless we have a club star party scheduled, there is no sanitation on site. It’s a farmer’s field, literally. There is nothing there.

These differences mean that even if RCA schedules a star party at Maupin, it’s okay to go to Sky View Acres, or Stub Stewart State Park, and almost always a few people do. However, the opposite is not true. If we schedule an event at Sky View Acres, we cannot individually choose to go to Maupin. Maupin is not open to visitors unless we’ve scheduled it.

To help sort this out, I have included a table of information regarding all four of these sites:

Stub Stewart
Open policy
Both OMSI and RCA parties

Rooster Rock
No open policy
OMSI parties (mostly) and RCA parties

Sky View Acres 
Open policy
No OMSI parties
No RCA parties yet, but coming

No open policy
No OMSI parties
RCA parties

After all is said and done, please remember that there are other kinds of events: Mt. St. Helens Science Learning Center and Maryhill Museum offer public star parties that we co-ordinate with in some way. RCA offers two events a year at Camp Hancock, an OMSI science camp. We also have a July tradition of having a star party at Trout Lake Sno-Park, and this year we are returning to the White River Sno-Park which we used in the distant past. Then there is Oregon Star Party, which is another species entirely.  Finally, our New Member Orientation team and Outreach Team are planning star parties for newbies, to be announced.

All of this requires us to be careful about making our plans. If you are not sure if this is public or private, or where it’s located, or what the conditions of our use of the site are, please feel free to contact any of our Board members to clarify. In all cases, though, some things are basic: be careful with light, be respectful of other people’s equipment, don’t set the place on fire.

What, me worry?  We’ll all be safer and happier if we know what’s going on!