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The BIGGEST Club Observing Site

Steven Nelson


This is the second in a series benchmarking club dark-sky observing sites in California. This month I will talk about the largest, at 22 acres, the Orange County Astronomers Anza site.

As we move northwest from the SDAA site (Oct. Ephemeris) we get to this other inland desert site. It is east of most population on a county road (371) near the small desert subdivision of Anza at over 4300 ft elevation. The land is rolling and gullied bush-covered desert. This also was purchased about 30 years ago but the club seems to have carried all the mortgage and tax expenses (not a group of founders). The important site selection points seem to have been, dark sky, electric lines extended by local utility for no fee, driving time 1-2 hours. The neighborhood has had residential building lately (light pollution = zone 3, 50% of background). The large site has allowed slow but substantial development over several decades. The monthly club star parties are very well attended, members get 24/7 access. Public visiting is only allowed by special arrangement (note – no maps or lat-long on their Clear Sky Clock).

The site offers these major services to the OCA, (1) a developed dark sky site for large star parties, (2) Club Observatories, 21” and 14”, (3) several areas for about 68 individual small pads and parking (private pads), (4) a place for seven large member observatories (private observatories), and (5) user club house with bathrooms, kitchen and dorms. The user pads are together in an open field near the restrooms, observatory, and “Anza House”. These are available to members on a first-come basis. Two long cement strips for this use have space for back-in parking and most have electric outlets. As the decades have passed what used to be one simple dirt field has been expanded. Major land grading was needed for “the football field. Two other areas are left as unimproved fields.

The concrete block observatory was a major project for the first years. Think of a building project almost the scale of Fremont Peak. There was originally a small warming trailer – greatly expanded by replacement by a duplex mobile home. There is a new zoning plan that will allow them to add 25 observatory sites (which will need major grading). The maintenance and development costs for the club are going to significantly increase – a dues and fees increase is being implemented.

The free electric service extension seemed important to their site. Not all telescope sites here have electricity. The site has a regular well water supply and regular bathrooms. Such amenities as an observatory and ANZA House have helped their success over the decades, but now there are increasing maintenance costs and of course, a volunteer recruitment need. The private pads and observatories are built by those who ‘license’ the sites. There is much help from experienced members for these tasks. Barn raisings or dome raisings seem to help “community”. Such a site, like SDAA’s, has been the accumulation of efforts over the decades and generations of club members.


The sixty private pads are small sites, most with electric service, that are available for yearly license. Serious observing can be done here in relative isolation, but unlike SDAA, there seems room for a car but not a tent. Places for about 10-15% of the club are available and the lease about doubles club yearly membership (to about $100 before increase). This seems to be one of the sources of income that helps pay annual electricity, taxes and maintenance. Pad “development” is the user responsibility. Typically users put in a cement pad and a permanent pier. Benches and equipment storage cabinets are sometimes installed. The “license” arrangement allows interest to be retained by the club but there has been some mention of profiteering. Check their wonderful WWW page.

The club observatory seems magnificent but the scope has had to be re-engineered. There is a $150 key and training charge to use the scope (no extra yearly fee). This is a facility slightly smaller than the Fremont Peak State Park observatory.

The private observatories area is for those who could afford building a major observatory. The original sites are now built-out (7) and OCA has a signup list for 17 more sites. These observatories re-sell privately, but require membership and some overview. The private observatories apparently pay about 3 X basic membership. There has been a very large discussion on the cost of development and these new sites.

I think this is yet another successful site, with multiple uses but a very large infrastructure. Space allows both expansion and ‘errors’ in plans. Expansion space seems to allow all interest groups and individuals room to grow and to pursue their specialized interests. I worry about such a large capital and maintenance cost that two mobile homes entail. Expansion without a detail financial plan may be a problem according to one source. Even getting electricity to all areas was a multi-decade project.

Like SDAA, hundreds of volunteer hours and donations really add up over the decades! There are now over 600 members in the OCA and the general dues are $50 [totals 5X SJAA] Some of this cash is used to support the site.


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