Tucked into the mountains near Brevard is one of the most scenic spots in Pisgah National Forest, and it comes with an intriguing history.
The Learning Center at PARI (Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute) occupies one of the first facilities NASA constructed during the infancy of the U.S. space program. It is now a nonprofit science education and research facility, open to the public and about a half-hour drive from downtown Brevard.
The 200-acre campus bristles with telescopes, scientific instruments (including two massive 85-foot radio telescopes), cabins and tent campsites. Visitors are welcome Saturdays from 9:30 a.m. until late and Sundays from 9:30 a.m. to 6 pm, with brunch served from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. and dinner available on Saturdays from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the campus restaurant, Smiley’s.
High atop the campus is an observation deck with some of the best views you’ll find anywhere in the area. The site also features cabin rentals, hiking trails, and a scenic small park that serves as a quiet resting place with an excellent view of the campus and mountain range.
While on campus, visitors are welcome to browse the Exhibit Galleries in the Cline Administration Building. The Minerals and Meteorite Gallery is home to a collection of gems, minerals and rare meteorites, including pieces of Mars, the Moon and fluorescent mineral specimens. The Learning Center’s Space Exhibit Gallery is also one of the few sites in the United States chosen to display NASA Space Shuttle artifacts, many of which have flown in space. Recently added exhibits include a one-third-scale Lunar Lander Module, a Redstone rocket engine, satellites and models, donated or on loan from the Smithsonian Institution.
General admission is $10 per person ($30 max per family); ($8 for seniors and students elementary through college); and free admission for military, first responders and children 5 and under.
Being a one-of-a-kind destination, The Learning Center’s core mission is to make science fun and accessible for all ages. Astronomy and science day and overnight camps are a primary focus for their new direction as The Learning Center continues to build on PARI’s heritage and to elevate this destination as a premiere learning experience for everyone to enjoy. For additional details, timing and reservations, visit The Learning Center at PARI’s web site at www.pari.edu or call (828) 862-5554.
At the current site of The Learning Center at PARI, NASA built the Rosman Research Station in 1962 to be the nation’s primary East Coast satellite-tracking facility. During the NASA era, the facility also was instrumental in the development of modern conveniences taken for granted today, such as weather satellites, GPS systems and coast-to-coast transmission of color TV signals.
In 1981, the Rosman Research Station was transferred to the Department of Defense (DOD) and used for satellite data collection. In 1995, the facility was closed and DOD operations were consolidated elsewhere.
After several years of inactivity, the site came to the attention of Don and Jo Cline, who had been active for many years in supporting astronomy and science programs at several colleges, universities and museums. In September 1998, the Clines acquired the site and transferred it to the not-for-profit foundation that manages The Learning Center at PARI today.
The Learning Center at PARI now hosts research initiatives with area colleges and universities, and provides educational opportunities for all levels of students: K-12, undergraduate, graduate and post-doctoral. The site is also home to the Astronomical Photographic Data Archive (APDA), the North American repository for historic astronomical photographic images.
Driving from Brevard, go west on U.S. 64 about 9 miles, turn right on N.C. 215 (at Headwaters Outfitters), travel 6 miles and turn left on Macedonia Church Road, proceed about 1.6 miles and turn left into The Learning Center at PARI and proceed to the Cline Administration Building (near the flagpole). For more information about all local activities, go to www.transylvaniaexplorer.com.