Chiefland recieves praise for being left in the dark

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By Mark Scohier, Staff writer

It’s not hard to gaze upon the night sky and be overcome with awe and wonder.  It’s the great unknown.  Many of our beliefs have spawned from it, and some of our greatest minds spend their lives trying to come to terms with it.

It’s inspired artists of every discipline, and our exploration and study of it have fostered some of our greatest technological achievements.

For example, the telescopes Galileo used 400 years ago to look at the moons of Jupiter have advanced to the point of being able to see light from stellar objects millions of light years away.   And they have enabled humans to look millions of years into the past.

Today, even amateur astronomers have these capabilities.  But while an ever-growing population threatens the darkness of the night sky with light pollution, many find they spend less time searching the cosmos and more time looking for a place far enough away from city lights to get a good view.

“I love it up here.  Skies are dark. It’s probably one of the last decent sky sights left in Florida,” Chris Stephan, a science teacher from Sebring, said Friday evening at his Chiefland campsite beneath the stars.

Stephan, one of about 287 visitors staying in tents and RVs, was taking part in Chiefland’s second annual Fall Star Party.  The weeklong event, hosted by the Chiefland Star Party Group, drew amateur astronomers loaded with telescopes and computers— attracted to the area because of its dark skies—from all over the country.

Stephan said he also liked the event, held on a 20-acre observation field, because of the availability of bathrooms, electricity, water and because, “It’s a nice country area.”

John Novak, the man who started the event, said the area was chosen because it’s relatively free of light pollution and because it’s close to Chiefland, which has hotels, restaurants and shopping centers.

The observation field, which lies adjacent to a neighborhood of astronomers known as the Chiefland Astronomy Village, also houses Novak’s own personal observatory, which he said contains the largest privately owned equatorial telescope in the Southeast.

Novak, a retired mechanical contractor, said, “I built it myself.  I’m what you call an ATMer, an amateur telescope maker.”

He said the telescope weighs about 7 tons.

Novak said that because of the economy and the threat of Hurricane Ida, attendance to this year’s event grew only slightly compared to last year.

But he said he predicts the event will draw “serious crowds” in a few years, and it could mean a big economic boost for the City of Chiefland.

That’s something John Moniak, an electrical engineer from Panama City Beach, agrees with.

“Quite frankly,” he said, “if this gets big enough, it could put Chiefland on the map.”

    Moniak said he was impressed with quality of night skies at the site, the facilities, the friendly atmosphere of like-minded enthusiasts and the range and number of guest speakers.

“We’ve been all the way up to Nebraska, Texas, Mississippi and down here.  And out of all of them, we kind of like this one the best.”