If you haven’t had the opportunity to go, summer is the perfect time for a drive out to the Geauga Park District’s Observatory Park in Montville, in the northeastern part of the county.
The site of this 1,100-acre park was chosen largely because astronomers recognized it as one of the few regions left in Northeast Ohio that had not yet been affected by light pollution. At Observatory Park’s dedication in 2011, the park received permanent distinction from the International Dark Sky Association as a Silver Tier Dark Sky Park, making it one of only 15 such parks in the US, and 20 in the world.
GPD naturalists frequently host evening programs at this incredible park, providing exceptional nighttime stargazing for the amateur astronomer, experienced with little or no light pollution. Weather permitting, visitors can enjoy looking through the Oberle telescope with a naturalist during staffed hours, or bring their own telescope any time during park hours and use one of the many telescope pads for self-guided stargazing.
A special program to study one of the season’s full moons (The Sturgeon Moon) is scheduled for Saturday, August 29, from 8 to 9:30 p.m. Or, visit Observatory Park on Sunday, September 27, beginning at 8 p.m. for prime viewing of a total lunar eclipse that will occur between 9 and 10 p.m., where visitors will have the opportunity to use park telescopes for an up-close view of the full moon as it vanishes under the Earth’s shadow.
Mary, a visitor to Observatory Park, shared, “I was so happy to see that the park would be opened for overnight viewing [of the Perseid Meteor Shower]. We were totally impressed by the facility. We arrived at about 11:45 p.m. and stayed until 5 a.m. As a reward, we saw 20 meteors! And, the expansive sky was awe-inspiring – it was like being swallowed up by the sky.” Another visitor, Mathew, shared, “Last night my family attended a presentation at the Observatory. 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 the evening.”
But, don’t worry if you can’t make it to an evening program. There’s still plenty to see and do during the daytime. Observatory Park features a mile-long Planetary Trail, with stops that provide interactive exhibits on each planet, as well as a Weather Trail that provides hands-on ways to study weather factors. Life-size corner stones of the Great Pyramid of Giza, which border the trails, help visitors visualize the size of the ancient wonder. A newly installed woodland trail connects the main campus with the soon-to-be-opened Nassau Astronomical Observing Station, which is scheduled to open within two years.
On Sundays, meet in the Robert McCullough Science Center for a planetarium presentation to find out what to watch for in the night sky each week. The building is open from 1 – 4 p.m., with the planetarium program starting at 2 p.m. If weather permits, visitors also have an opportunity to view the sun using safe solar-viewing equipment, making a daytime visit to the park worth the trip.
During a special program, kids aged 3-5 and their caregiver can participate in the “Timbertots: Space Explorers,” program, which is offered on Wednesday, August 5, from 10 to 11 a.m. and 1 to 2 p.m., and Sunday, August 9, from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. Kids aged 12-17 are invited for a Skynet Junior Scholars Workshop on Sunday, September 13, from 4 to 5 p.m. They’ll use remote-control telescopes to conduct genuine astronomical research through this national program, as well as learn to use any internet-connected computer to control telescopes around the world. These programs require special registration. Other park offerings are free to attend without registration, and are wheelchair/stroller accessible.
Observatory Park is located at 10610 Clay Street in Montville Township, and can be reached by phone at 440-279-0820. The Park is open daily from 6 a.m. until 1 a.m. through Labor Day, and until 11 p.m. from Labor Day through Memorial Day. The Science Center is open the second and fourth Fridays and Saturdays of each month from 6 to 11 p.m., and every Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m., with planetarium show at 2 p.m. See their website for specific dates.
As the Geauga Park District website boasts, a trip to Observatory Park lets visitors “experience nature from the ground to the galaxies.” Why not plan a trip to this local treasure some time soon to explore it with your family?