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Green Ridge State Forest, MD

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#1 Gmb1830


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Posted 04 March 2024 - 11:29 PM

Last Thursday I ventured up to Banner Outlook atop Green Ridge State Forest in western MD.  Based on online Bortle maps, it's probably the darkest skies in MD and only 2 hrs from home (which is along I-95, Bortle 7/8ish).  From the pictures from Google Maps, that overlook is the flattest.  Nearby Warrior Mountain Overlook is steeply sloped, for example.  There are primitive campsites scattered all over the forest, but they all seem treed in. 


Drive past the ranger station to get any advice, but it was closed.  Nothing useful at the info kiosk.  The roads in the forest are all dirt/grave.  The big ones like Green Ridge Rd and Oldtown-Orleans Rd were smooth and easy drives for my economy sedan.  Mertens Ave (the way to the Outlook) was rougher, but if I kept it at 10-15 mph, it was OK.  Would have felt better with a high-clearance 4WD, though.


The outlook is a bit bigger than a basketball court, low trees, with a great view to the E and SE.   IMG_0067.JPG   


The pic shows my equipment:  StarNavigator 102 (the f/7.8 version) and a Gskyer 130 f/5.  Note the homemade tray for the SN102--it, plus a good bit of fine-tuning has helped reduce the shakes to primarily what I think is gear slack in the alt drive.  The 130 has also been tinkered with, but the harsh truth is that the mirror (based on star testing) is closer to spherical than parabolic (for another post if people care).  Still, as a $10 thrift store grab, it's pretty good at low magnifications.   


Right at sunset, a forest ranger stopped by.  He told me that the overlooks are supposed to close at sunset, but he wouldn't ask me to leave since the rule is really to keep the sites from being used for parties that trash the place.  He recommended Campsite 65 for next time ($10/night).  From online views, it's on the same hillside, further down, but really only has a good view to the eastern half of the sky.  Online maps show open areas near other camps, but maybe next time I'll hit some of the state parks out west with campgrounds open (not true in Feb).  The forest attracts a lot of hunters and other rec users, and part of my decision to go was based on no open seasons, no bugs (it was 27 F at sunset), and the bears were still in hibernation.


As for light pollution, there were clear light domes from Cumberland (west) and Hancock/Hagerstown (east), but they didn't extend far above the horizon (10 deg?).  The Double Cluster, M31, M44, M41 were visible with my unaided (and aged) eyes. Seeing was moderate.  Early in the night I went to iota Cas.  On good nights the closer pair are distinguishable with the SN102, but that night it was less obvious.   


For targets, I did a half-night Messier marathon (M74 to M104, plus quick looks of M13 and M92 through the trees), missing M74, M91, and unsatisfying views of M101 and a few of the fainter Leo-Virgo galaxies.  Last time I tried a marathon was back in the late 90s with grad school friends using the department's 8" SCT and 10" Dob, so I wanted to try something a wide variety of targets.  Spent most of the time at the SN102 using a (gifted) Meade 5000 SWA 20 mm eyepiece, sometimes going to a Svbony 6 mm goldline.  The GOTO mount worked pretty well, although I often synched to nearby bright stars before going after fainter targets.  Most of the smaller galaxies and PN were weak smudges that I didn't linger on too much.  Favorite sights included M81/M82 framed together, several of the winter open clusters in both scopes, and seeing more than just the Trapezium region around M42.  A satisfying night. 


Left around midnight--my toes were getitng a bit too cold.  The moon was rising and some clouds were rolling in.  I had a drive home to think of, too. Would I go back?  Sure, if I knew I wouldn't get into trouble for using the overlook--maybe a phone call before driving.   

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#2 Skyscratcher88


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Posted 06 March 2024 - 08:39 AM

Nice report! Bummer about ranger info. You probably know about Cherry Springs PA B2 ish. Spruce knob WV is a bit darker than Cherry Springs is great if you time it right.

#3 Gmb1830


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Posted 06 March 2024 - 03:23 PM

I’ve heard of both spots, but never been to either. They’re 4-5 hrs from home vs 2ish hrs. A multi-night camping run to a better spot could be in my future, but a closer spot makes sense given I’m working my way back into this hobby. I didn’t get bored, cold, scared, or frustrated. The equipment is certainly adequate, etc. 


The ranger was really cool about it. I’m somewhat under the impression that they’d be ok with it, maybe if I’d asked first. Given the forest (not park) gets a lot of hunting and off-roading use other times of year, I’m going to check other spots. I know Wold Den Park is one place, but it’s way to the west. Some B4 options to explore closer to Frederick, MD.  As always, talking to my local club for experiences would make sense, of course. 

#4 Jackg


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Posted 07 March 2024 - 12:21 PM

>Some B4 options to explore closer to Frederick, MD


Please do post what you find. The police won't let us use the parks in Carroll County, MD. They are always very polite, but make it clear the parks are closed.


I image from my backyard during the cold months, but can't see the sky when the trees' leaves come in.

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