Observing site: Merritt Reservoir State Recreation Area, home of the Nebraska Star Party
Contact person: Nebraska State Game and Parks Commission
Any restrictions: State Parks Entry Permit is required ($14 annual, or $2.50 1-day permit).
Directions: From Valentine, go southwest out of town on Nebraska Spur 97 for about 27 miles to the Dam. Continue around the lake to the Snake campground (another 7 miles) to the area just above the Snake Campground, located above the south side of the lake, which is the location of the Nebraska Star Party Observing fields. Create a map using Mapquest.com.
How are the sky conditions? Some of the best dark sky conditions in the entire Midwest can be found at this site! The nearest town is Valentine (pop. 2180) about 29 miles to the northeast, and no other towns of larger size are present out to a radius of 50 miles. The nearest large town is North Platte, about 100 miles to the south. No light pollution is usually visible in any direction, due to the very sparse population, the high rolling terrain of the Nebraska Sand Hills, and the elevation of 3,100 ft above sea level. The Game and Parks Commission has installed full-cutoff light shields at the two campgrounds with power, and no lighting is present on or within two miles of the observing fields at the Snake Campground. The skies are very dark (clouds look black), and the Milky Way is bright enough to allow objects to cast shadows on the ground. Seeing can also be quite good (often 0.5 arc seconds or better).
Best horizon (direction and approximate altitude cut-off): East and West horizons (Zero degrees).
Worst horizon (direction and approximate altitude cut-off): North Horizon (5 degrees on the observing fields, 15 degrees in the campground).
Comments from contributor: People attending the Nebraska Star Party have compared the site quite favorably to the Prude Ranch location of the Texas Star Party. It can be windy at times, but there are some sheltered areas that can be used successfully. Two nearby stores are available for supplies without having to go into Valentine. The lake is known for its excellent fishing and miles of white sand beaches which make it an ideal place for family recreation. It is not as heavily used as some Nebraska State Parks due to its remoteness, but it has attracted over 400 attendees to the annual star party.
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