All the stars seem to be aligning for a unique addition to a beloved Blair County tourism site. When the project is complete, astronomy buffs will have an ideal venue to see those stars.
Fort Roberdeau is collaborating with the Altoona Area High School Astronomy Club to build the Mountain Lion Observatory at the Fort.
The foundation is already dug, and the observatory should be ready by May, said Glenn Nelson, Executive Director of Fort Roberdeau, located in Tyrone Township, just outside of Altoona.
This community treasure was originally built in 1778 during the American Revolution to safeguard a lead mining operation planned and financed by General Roberdeau. The Fort not only protected miners, but also the local population from Tory and Native American raids.
Fast-forward more than two centuries, and the site – a Blair County park – draws many tourists each year for educational and recreational opportunities.
The addition of an observatory is an appropriate fit for the Fort, Nelson added.
“We have a beautiful, expansive southern sky,” he reminded. “It’s a dark sky, probably one of the darker skies in Blair County.”
Every May, members of the AAHS Astronomy Club enjoy an overnight camping trip to Fort Roberdeau to star gaze. It goes without saying that the new observatory will be a welcome addition for those folks, but also for the entire community.
Nelson expects the facility to be used by adult astronomy clubs, college students, church groups, and scout groups. Interested parties will be able to rent the building.
The observatory will also be a great attraction for Fort Roberdeau during the off-season.
“Some of the best star gazing is in the winter time, and one of my goals is to use the Fort all year long,” Nelson mentioned. “We’re really excited. It will be a great resource – another educational resource – at the Fort.”
Speaking of learning opportunities, Fort Roberdeau boasts a long history of welcoming students from throughout Central Pennsylvania.
“Our school tours are our bread and butter; our meat and potatoes,” Nelson stated.
The fort offers two touring opportunities for students: “Hands-on the Past” and “A Bridge to the Past.”
Nelson described the “Hands-on the Past” tour as interactive and one that caters to smaller groups. Students engage in at least three activities and use tools and reproduction objects to learn how things were done in 1778.
By contrast, “A Bridge to the Past” is a great option for larger groups. Students hear stories about the frontier during the Revolutionary War and then spend time at various learning stations such as the storehouse, barracks, miner’s hut, and blacksmith shed.
The school tours are most active at this time of year – late September through late October – and from early May until the end of the school year, Nelson noted, offering a special shout-out to West Branch Elementary – the school with the longest history of tours at the Fort.
As school tours wind down at the end of this month, Fort Roberdeau is preparing for a special outreach to our great veterans next month.
Veterans and their caregivers will be invited to a special recognition program on November 4. A luncheon and fellowship time will follow. Also that day from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and November 5 from Noon-4:00 p.m., the public is invited to a World War II reenactment of a German Prisoner of War camp.
The Fort is proud to have had some of the earliest veterans of the United States posted at Fort Roberdeau during the war, so Nelson pointed out that it is very appropriate for the Fort to honor those who served their country.
“What a nice way to end our tour season,” he said.
Visit the Fort Roberdeau website or call (814) 946-0048 for more information.
By Tony DeGol