Astronomy: Kitsap County Has Plenty of Star Gazing Opportunities

The hype is on for the upcoming August 21st Great American Solar Eclipse. It seems everyone is heading to Oregon to catch the sun’s mid- morning, nearly three-minute total blackout. Oregon wineries are sponsoring eclipse parties, Salem’s minor league baseball team is hosting an A.M. game with an eclipse break and hotels/campgrounds/vacation rentals have been sold out for months at exorbitant prices. If your interest in the celestial skies is greater than an expensive trip south to stand in the dark for a few minutes, there are plenty of opportunities in our own community to learn about astronomy. Read about them here in my latest article in WestSound Home and Garden magazine.

Stargazing on the West Coast of Puget Sound

This past week I walked the trail of Bainbridge Island’s Battle Point Park to have a close encounter with the dome shaped building that I’d wondered about while spending hours on the sidelines of my now adult son’s soccer games so often played on the park’s pristine fields.

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Like many of the parks in Kitsap County, Battle Point was once the site of a military installation housing World War II structures used to facilitate communications to the U.S. Pacific Fleet. The former Transmitter Building has been renovated for use as a building for the island’s Park and Recreation District’s various programs.

The local newspaper, The Bainbridge Review, published an excellent article on the history of Battle Point Park. Its name allegedly comes not from its use by the military but rather from a battle fought between the Suquamish Tribe and Canadian First Nation invaders. It was at this site that U.S. code breakers first intercepted a message indicating Japan was going to bomb Pearl Harbor.

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But it was the domed building that piqued my curiosity. The building minus the dome was called the Helix Building and it was part of the military’s complex that was donated to the Bainbridge Island parks by the Navy in 1972. It’s now a planetarium housing a 27.5 inch telescope, the largest public access telescope in the area. How, I wondered did THAT happen?

After the Navy donated the Helix Building to Bainbridge it stood vacant for 21 years until John Rudolph, a local community activist and amateur astronomer proposed turning the building into a planetarium.  Along with two other local enthusiasts and eventually a team of volunteers, the building was renovated to create a planetarium and observatory and a telescope was built. The planetarium is named after John Rudolph and the observatory and telescope after Edwin E Ritchie, one of the other early founders.

The Battle Point Astronomical Association was created to insure the building was used for the educational purposes as the founders envisioned. It’s website contains considerable information about classes, children’s activities, the current month’s astronomical events, how to check out smaller telescopes and some amazing celestial photography by Stephen Ruhl.

Finding out about Bainbridge Island’s organized night sky viewing led to more wondering. Where else in Kitsap County could one find enthusiasts?  I turned to The Google.

Further south in Bremerton, a group of local astronomy educators have opened the Pacific Planetarium for May through August Friday and Sunday presentations. Their May, 2016 schedule has topics such as Hubble Space Telescope photos, audience suggestion Sundays and an over 18 years of age uncensored Greek and Roman Star Stories presentation.

Also based in Bremerton is the Olympic Astronomical Society. Begun in 1969 by a group of high school students passionate about star gazing, today the organization is open to anyone and it encourages family involvement. It sponsors a variety of activities including monthly meetings, potlucks, star gazing parties at Port Gamble and Hurricane Ridge and its popular Camp Delaney Star Party at Sun Lakes in Eastern Washington.

For anyone wanting a formal educational experience, Olympic College offers an Astronomy Program that prepares students for entry level work in the field. The college’s popular astronomy instructor, David Fong teaches Introduction to Astronomy classes at all three of the college’s campuses in Bremerton, Poulsbo and Shelton. He can sometimes be heard as a guest speaker at local astronomy events. I heard him speak at Bainbridge’s John Rudolph Planetarium and can attest for his enthusiasm for his subject matter. In August, 2015, Olympic College sponsored Astronomy Talks, a series of lectures by nationally known astronomers and Astronomy Slam, short talks about astronomy subjects at art galleries, theatres and pubs in Bremerton. I’m bookmarking those two sites in hopes the college will repeat the events this summer.

What began as a close encounter with a dome shaped building revealed a galaxy of local possibilities for anyone interested in astronomy.

Make it so and you will live long and prosper.

 

 

Bainbridge Island: The Yama Archaeological Site

Yama. In Japanese it means “mountain” or “hill”. On Kitsap County’s Bainbridge Island, Yama was the hillside home for the earliest Japanese residents of the island; about 300 men and later women and children recruited to work in the expanding Port Blakely Mill. Though the village of Yama only existed from 1890-the 1920’s when it burnt and was abandoned, the influence of Yama has shaped much of Bainbridge’s history. Yama was the beginning of a shameful period of the island, state and nation’s history – the forced removal of 276 of the island’s Japanese citizens to internment camps in California and Idaho during World War II, many of them Yama residents and descendants who remained on the island. The Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial Association has dedicated itself to remembering that time by erecting a beautiful but sobering memorial, The Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial located at the now defunct Eagledale Ferry Dock Harbor, the site of the forced removal.

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Located on the south end of Bainbridge Island overlooking Blakely Park, today Yama is a tangle of vines and fast growing northwest vegetation covering the remains of what was once a thriving village about a mile from the mill.

Based on oral history, a few photographs and the beginnings of an archaeological project, evidence indicates that Yama once had a Buddhist temple and Baptist church, a hotel, a general store with an ice cream shop and photography studio and a bathhouse that lined the wooden planked sidewalks to the houses. The earliest residents were bachelors, many who eventually married. Those who didn’t were consigned to the bachelor quarter away from the families.

While nearby Bainbridge residents were aware of Yama; some even doing their own excavation of pottery and other remnants, it wasn’t until 2010 when the city and parks departments traded who had jurisdiction over the seven acre site, that plans began to develop to fully study it as the important archaeological site that it is. A partnership of Olympic College’s Anthropology Department, the Bainbridge Island Historical Museum, the Kitsap County Historical Society and Museum, the Bainbridge Historical Preservation Commission and the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community formed and applied for grant funding.

During the summer of 2015, the three year archaeological research began with a team of students from Olympic College participating in an archaeological field school and 37 volunteers who contributed 670 hours of work. I was a very occasional volunteer and can attest to the considerable effort that occurred in the summer of 2015: surveying the hilly overgrown site, removing vines to search for surface level artifacts and cleaning, identifying and cataloging over 2500 artifacts that ranged from metal stoves and pans to parts of shoes, a porcelain dolls head and a lot of glass shards. While some artifacts will be housed at the Bainbridge Historical Museum, the eventual collection is too extensive and so it will be housed at the Burke Museum in Seattle, an internationally renowned museum of Washington history and culture on the University of Washington campus.

The second year of the archaeological project will begin again in the summer of 2016. If interested in volunteering, it can be done here. If you don’t want to volunteer but are interested in following the project, the Yama site has a Facebook page called Yama Anthro that tracked the daily progress of last summer’s work. And the Bainbridge Historical Museum has an impressive display of the history of the Port Blakely Mill, Yama and a collection of artifacts from both.