Home > Dark Places, Stargazing > Geauga Observatory Dark Sky Park

Geauga Observatory Dark Sky Park

Dark Sky Places Traveling Fellowship Part 2

Thanks to the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust, I have received a traveling fellowship to visit all of the International Dark Sky Places in North America between 22 August and 03 October 2011. This series of blog posts will detail my visit to each of these  very dark places.

Geauga Observatory Dark Sky Park

Situated only 45 minutes east of Cleveland, Geauga Park District is home to 20 separate parks in Geauga County, Ohio, the largest one of which is also the most recent: Observatory Park.

Observatory Park

This 1100 acre recreation park is home to a brand new observatory and astronomy complex, designed to encourage local schools education, and public astronomy.

The construction of this site is nearing completion, having been planned since 2004, and in 2008 the International Dark-skies Association awarded it provisional dark sky park status, a status that last week was upgraded to full International Dark Sky Park status (pdf).

I was guided round the spectacular Observatory Park by Kathleen Hanes, their Dark Sky Co-ordinator, Tom Curtin, their Executive Director, and Bill Murmann, a local amateur astronomer, and shown all of the amazing brand new facilities that will soon be used by local schools and visitors to the park.

Moon Phase Exhibit

Some of the highlights include:

  • a solar system trail (to scale) covering one mile around the perimeter of the observing field (help for which I discovered was given to Geauga District by Armagh Observatory in Northern Ireland)
  • a fully-fitted observatory with 25″ scope
  • five concrete platforms with electric hook-ups for setting up portable scopes outdoors
  • a human sundial
  • winter and summer solstice sunrise alignments
  • proposed “stonehenge” stones marking the direction to specific stars in different seasons
  • a good-sized teaching room complete with planetarium dome sunk into the ceiling

Planetarium Dome

In the afternoon I met with the fundraising team, who have, incredibly, raised much of the money for this development through private donations.

My final meeting was with Terry McGowan of the IDA, who gave lots of useful insight into the lighting regulations at Observatory Park.

Astronomy Tourism at Geauga Observatory Dark Sky Park

With such a new facility, the park is still working out exactly what it means for the local tourism community, but one slight snag (in terms of the park generating revenue for the local county) is the lack of places to stay overnight near Geauga. We had to stay in the next county, albeit only twenty minutes drive from the park.

My sense is that the park will thrive on its education programme, which was the real reason for its creation, and that tourism may not feature too heavily, which is a great shame given how stunning a place it is.

Observatory Park Panorama

 

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