On December 21, 2014, my wife Heather and I had the great pleasure of meeting with Erwin Matys and Karoline Mrazek of Project NighFlight in Vienna, Austria to get a personal tour of the Grossmugl Star Walk. The Star Walk was featured in the October 2014 issue of Sky and Telescope magazine. I contacted Erwin and Karoline the day the digital edition came out to let them know that we would be in Vienna (where they are based) and asking them if they would be interested in giving us a tour. Their response was warm and the reception most generous. Karoline and Erwin were simply delightful hosts, and we spent a wonderful (and chilly!) afternoon amid the rolling farmland north of Vienna discussing the Star Walk, astronomy, the BAS, and just life in Austria and the US.
The Star Walk is designed to be a permanent, self-guiding trail marked by strategically-located signs along an approximately mile-long route amid farm fields in Grossmugl, Austria (population 1,500). Grossmugl (meaning "large, steep-sided hill") is about 20 miles north of Vienna in a remarkably dark-sky site. The goal of the Star Walk is to introduce people to observing the night sky without optical aid, and demonstrate a variety of important observing principles and a relaxed and accessible way. This is accomplished by permanent signage along the trail. Each sign (stop) introduces a new element of the night sky, starting with a discussion of light pollution, then dark adaptation, and including topics such as star colors, star brightness, constellation movements, artifical satellites, and finally the Milky Way. The Star Walk ends at an Iron Age burial mound (the "Leeburg") which dates to between 800 and 500 BC. It is a truly magical place to contemplate the heavens as our ancestors must have done 2,500 years ago!
We arrived in Grossmugl in the late afternoon on a chilly and rather windy day. The Star Walk begins in town, and the route is marked with stars painted on the pavement leading betyween the first and second stops. The pavement gives way to trails that divide various fields in the genetly-rolling farmland. Each sign has a title and a short lesson in both German and English. The signs also have a QR-code that links to an audio explanation in German. I photographed each sign and the countryside around, and we discussed each lesson and various details about the installation. As we reached the end of the Walk at the Leeburg, the clouds started rolling in. However, we did get a great view of Venus as the sun was setting, the Summer Triangle, and Capella. The hot tea and trail bars were terrific, and we spend some time talking at the picnic table at the base of the Leeburg. We could only imagine what an incredible sky it would be on a clear, crisp night with a clear 360-degree view all around!
When I read about the Star Walk last Fall, I was convinced that the BAS could do this in Chattanooga. After seeing it in person and talking with Erwin and Karoline, I am even more excited about the prospect of setting up Star Walks in the Chattanooga Area and beyond. This will be my big project for the BAS for 2015, starting with a Star Walk at Harrison Bay State Park. I have already pitched the idea to Ranger Matt, and he is definitely on-board. I think such a project could also happen at Cloudland Canyon State Park in Georgia, Fall Creek Falls State Park, Chester Frost Park, and even Coolidge Park in downtown Chattanooga. Erwin and Karoline are 100% supportive of this effort and are looking forward to seeing what the BAS does with this wonderful concept.