JSU Newswire
Jacksonville, Alabama

On Top of Chimney Peak

The newly paved two-mile blacktop leading to Chimney Peak.

Photos By Al Harris

The old fire tower is in dangerous condition and will soon be torn down.

Although there are numerous antennas surrounding the site, officials say the new observatory will have an unblocked view of the sky, unlike the present location in Martin Hall.

Good reasons not to climb the tower: many of the steps are rotten, and the tower's cabin has no floor.

What you'll see at the top: the fire towner and communication equipment, a grand view of the campus and town, and miles of untouched nature.

Story By Stephanie Pendergrass
The Chanticleer
Plans to make Chimney Peak the location for an observatory are closer to completion, after the paving of the road leading to the top of the mountain was recently finished. Chimney Peak, located just east of JSU, will be the home of a donated telescope and a planetarium, according to Pete Conroy, of JSU's Environmental Policy and Information Center.

"The road to the top of Chimney Peak is one of the prettiest roads I've ever seen, and it reminds me of the Blue Ridge Parkway back in North Carolina," said Conroy. "If folks haven't had the chance to drive it, they need to do that just because it's extremely well-done and the views from the top are just beautiful."

Conroy said the equipment for the observatory is in the process of being ordered. He also reported that a planetarium would be present at the sight, thanks to identified funds. "So rain or shine, we'll help people see the stars."

According to Conroy, "Years ago we had the observatory on top of Martin Hall, and the view of the night sky was obstructed not only by the library right next door, but also by pollution. A number of people had come to the same conclusion which was, 'let's move it.'"

Conroy explained that the possibility of moving the current observatory from Martin Hall to Chimney Peak was an option, until it was determined that the current equipment was "rusted and basically inoperable."

Conroy added, "The telescope was then determined to have been antiquated, and the optics weren't up to par, so we looked into buying new equipment." JSU then had a telescope donated for the observatory by Rick Hardin. The telescope is currently being kept in a warehouse in Calhoun County.

For now, the pouring of a pad, which will house the telescope, is left to be done. A small building will be on top of the pad and, on top of that, a dome. "We expect that we will receive the dome within the next six to eight months, and by that time the pad and the building should have been constructed," said Conroy. According to a press release describing a telescope much like the one that will be atop Chimney Peak, the telescope "is a masterpiece and could not be replicated for less than $7,000." The press release also reported, "This is a tremendous opportunity for a serious planetary, lunar or doublet research grade instrument."

With the presence of the telescope, Conroy said, "Now the idea is to hook the images up to the Internet so that theoretically if you are a teacher in Dothan, you can call Jacksonville State University and arrange to look at whatever portion of the sky you're studying in the classroom."

Conroy hopes to have this done within a year.

He also said that the use of the telescope would be free to public schools throughout the state, while those doing research out of state would be charged for usage.

Conroy explained the symbolism behind the observatory. "Having an observatory on top of a mountain, not only will it provide access to science, but it will be a symbol of science," he said. "You'll be able to see this observatory from just about anywhere. When people look at that mountain, they'll see the observatory and think 'Jacksonville State University,' and then they'll think 'a great place to learn about science.'"

Along with the telescope and planetarium, JSU's 92J will also benefit from the work being done on Chimney Peak. A radio transmitter will be constructed on top of the mountain, which will add more wattage behind the University's radio station. "Right now 92J is 3,000 watts; that will increase to 6,000 watts," said station engineer Mike Hathcock. "It's basically doubling the power.

"As it's scheduled now, they're scheduled to start working on the foundation next week, which is pouring the concrete," Hathcock added. "Actually, I expect some steel to be going up by the end of October."

Hathcock explained that Chimney Peak was chosen to be the home of the radio station's new transmitter because of its height advantage. "Basically it's the height," he said. "With FM the higher your antenna is, the better your coverage is going to be, and that's a very, very high (point). It's the highest point in this area, north Alabama, with the exception of Cheaha."

He also said that the new transmitter would improve local coverage and possibly beyond. "To some extent, it will improve the outlying areas, toward Gadsden, and down towards Anniston, and some places you can't get it now, you should be able to get it then."


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