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Today's Family Magazine

Observatory Park is out of this world!

Aug 08, 2016 09:34AM ● By Today's Family

At Observatory Park you can see the Milky Way as you've never seen it before.

By Stacy Turner • August 2016 Issue

If you’ve never been to Observatory Park, the Geauga Park District’s (GPD’s) unique spot in rural Montville, then you’re in for a treat of interstellar proportions.

While the interpretive stations and wide, flat trails certainly make this park a nice setting to experience nature during the day, what happens there at night is what makes it truly special. 
The rural setting was specifically chosen because it was one of the few areas in northeast Ohio not yet affected by light pollution.  This fact helped Observatory Park earn the designation from the International Dark-Sky Association (IDSA) as one of only 27 dark sky parks in the U.S. and only 37 in the world.  The IDSA educates communities on the harmful effects of light pollution on people, animals and ecosystems around the world.  Parks are rated based on nighttime sky quality as measured by light pollution meters and satellite imagery.  Which is a very technical way to tell you that the night sky at the park is pitch black, giving amateur and experienced astronomers alike, the perfect place to view celestial sights.

The park holds special, free events like the one on Friday and Saturday, August 12–13 where you and your family can stay up through the night viewing the annual Perseid meteor shower, which is best seen between 1 and 3 am.  They’ll also have a naturalist on hand from sunset to sunrise to help visitors identify night-flying moths and other nocturnal insects, as well. 

Park visitor Mary Gawor shared, "Staying up all night to watch the Perseid meteor show has been a family tradition since I was a little girl.  I was so happy to see that the park would be opened for overnight viewing.  The expanse of sky there is awe-inspiring -- even lying flat can’t provide a view of it all.  The number of stars that can be seen is incredible!"

If you’re unable to take in the meteor shower, don’t worry.   The park features an observatory and science center which are open the second and fourth Fridays and Saturdays of each month from 6 pm–11 pm to give you the chance to take in the wonders of the sky using the park’s telescopes.  The park is also open every other Sunday afternoon with a planetarium presentation that highlights what visitors can see that week in the night sky at home.  And if weather permits, Sunday afternoon visitors get the chance to view the sun using safe, solar-viewing equipment, as well.

“Last night my family attended the presentation at the observatory,” visitor Mathew Spangler explained. “My second grade daughter loves to read and learn about space, so we went mostly for her enjoyment. What I didn't expect is how much I learned and enjoyed that evening,” he marveled.  “Astro-naturalist Chris Mentrek's passion and enthusiasm was infectious, his presentation was informative and inviting, and the computer display was absolutely incredible," Spangler concluded.

On the evening of Friday, August 26, you’ll have the chance to meet pioneering astronomer Henrietta Leavitt, at least sort of.  Park naturalist and interpreter Nora Sindelar, posing as Leavitt, will portray the woman who originally discovered how to measure the size of the universe back in the early 1900s.  This special program will be followed by night sky viewing until 11 pm, if weather permits.  Check the GPD website at to find out more about these and other programs.

If you visit the park on any given day of the year, you can picnic and hike, just like you would at any other park.  At Observatory Park, you’ll have access to the mile-long Planetary Trail, which features interactive stations that represent each planet in our solar system.  You’ll also see the Weather Trail, with interactive areas showing a variety of ways to study the weather.  The trails meander through life-sized corner stones that represent the footprint of the Great Pyramid of Giza, which some believe to have been built to mimic the placement of the stars in the constellation Orion’s belt.  Nearby, you’ll see earthern mounds and henge stones, which represent how ancient people observed and studied astronomical phenomena. 

The Woodland Loop Trail connects the main area of the park to the Nassau Astronomical Observing Station which is currently under renovation.  The GPD plans to open it to the public in 2017.

Observatory Park is located at 10610 Clay Street in Montville Township in Geauga County.  It is open daily from 6 am–1 am throughout the summer, and until
11 pm after Labor Day.

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