DEL NORTE — Once the Presbyterian College of the Southwest closed its doors in 1901, the Del Norte area went through several changes including almost becoming the state’s capital to becoming a booming silver and gold community thanks to the creation of the Summitville Mining operation and then becoming part of the agricultural boom in the San Luis Valley. It has been a long road leading to the growing community it is known to be today.
According to documents provided by the Lookout Mountain Observatory Association, “The Lookout Mountain Observatory Association began efforts in the early 1990-s to locate the original Brashear telescope and rebuild the large observatory that was located there from 1886 until 1901. Although this is still an ongoing goal, the Leo Fontenot Memorial Observatory is a secondary project located on the prominent hilltop behind the Rio Grande County Court House.”
The clam shell dome was imported from a manufacturer in Canada and assembled and installed by the association members. The roll-off roof observatory was built by club members from existing plans. One of the members was a construction contractor and oversaw the project. Another member was an electrician with heavy equipment who provided much-needed work. All the labor was donated including the hilltop one acre property and telescopes.
Members of the association worked countless hours to bring this once-beloved attraction back to the Del Norte area and finally succeeded 103 years later when the new observatory was finished in 2004.
Through combined efforts of volunteers, the community and members of the association, the Leo Fontenot Memorial Observatory now resides in a perfect location just behind the county building in Del Norte. It was built for educational purposes and use by active amateur astronomers.
While the association was still working to build the new observatory, an ordinance was passed in partnership with Xcel Energy and the Town of Del Norte in the early 1990’s to replace the town’s street lighting with low-light fixtures that were aimed toward the ground as part of the early Dark Sky preservation initiative. The lights were replaced and have since been maintained throughout the area.
Per the ordinance 597, “The town board finds that this ordinance is necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health and safety and shall take effect and be enforced from and after passage of the same.”
The association meets at the county annex building on preselected dates when viewing conditions are best and public star parties are announced prior to the date in local media outlets as well as through their email announcements. Over the past year, the association has had to cancel viewing events due to the COVID-19 pandemic but are hopeful to begin a new schedule this coming summer.
Interested parties are encouraged to attend the next scheduled meeting which will be announced soon. Membership joining fees are $25 per person or family. Thereafter, annual dues are $25 per person or family at the beginning of each year. Students are free and exempted from any dues in order to encourage their membership.
The association is seeking new interest in the observatory and continue to encourage local schools, organizations and other public entities to join. For more information or to sign up as a member, contact Alva Hibbs at [email protected]