Forty miles southeast of Columbus in the secluded and tranquil woods of the Hocking Hills State Park, community members are setting their sights on the sky.
Ohio’s Hocking Hills, known for its lack of light pollution and resulting clear night sky views, has always been a mecca for astronomy fanatics. Thus, members of the Friends of Hocking Hills State Park (FHHSP) are moving into the second phase of fundraising for John Glenn Astronomy Park, named for one of America’s greatest heroes and an Ohio native.
Through generous donations and pledges from community members, the project has already secured more than 50% of the necessary funding to build and endow the park. FHHSP’s Phase 2 fundraising efforts for the facility are aimed at securing the final $800,000 of the project’s $1.6 million budget.
The organization invites the community to donate online at friendsofhockinghills.org and is seeking corporate, academic and other partners to help take the project to completion. Companies, institutions and organizations wishing to support the project may call 877-403-4477. A number of major learning institutions and research organizations have expressed interest in using the facility for research.
“The Friends of Hocking Hills State Park is privileged to help honor John Glenn’s legacy by developing a facility that has such tremendous potential to offer visitors from around the globe an unforgettable experience,” said Julieann Burroughs, president of the FHHSP Board of Directors. “The park will spark an interest in science, exploration and astronomy among visitors of all ages and is expected to become a meaningful scientific research facility.”
Preliminary design for John Glenn Astronomy Park is complete.
With an ideal elevation of 1,000 feet, the park will be located near Old Man’s Cave in Hocking Hills State Park and land for the astronomy park will be leased to the Friends organization by ODNR for $1. As observatories statewide find their views obscured by increasing light pollution, the facility will solidify Hocking Hills’ reputation as one of the country’s last great pollution-free spots for stargazing. The region draws more than 3 million visitors annually from around the globe, with most coming to experience its unspoiled natural environment.
“In addition to miles and miles of trails through dense forests, stunning rock formations and rushing waterfalls, our star-filled skies get high marks from visitors,” said Hocking Hills Tourism Association Executive Director Karen Raymore. “The Tourism Association is thrilled at the opportunity to offer one more reason for travelers to visit the region and a new way for them to experience another natural attraction, which has been here since the dawn of time.”
Raymore added that increased tourism benefits the area through much-needed economic development, as visitors generate more than $134 million annually in the region.
Perhaps the most famous Ohioan with an eye on the cosmos, John Glenn, agreed to lend his name to the park, giving it his blessing shortly before passing away on Dec. 8.
The Friends of Hocking Hills State Park organization is honored to move forward with a project that will bear Glenn’s name and legacy for years to come, with a focus on education and engaging visitors and members of the community. John Glenn Astronomy Park will not only allow visitors to explore the night sky, but will also offer daytime study, welcoming visitors to its Solar Plaza to study the Sun, Earth and the North Celestial Pole, among other celestial features.
Designed by Ohio-based M&A Architects, John Glenn Astronomy Park includes an 18-foot in diameter Solar Plaza, which highlights the Sun’s orientation to the Earth as it changes throughout the year. The plaza is encircled by a low wall with notches that offer framed views of the Sun on key days. An enclosed 540-square-foot observatory features a retractable roof to permit night sky viewing. Gathering areas, open green space and parking make the Park ideal for research, star parties, special events and general daily visitation.
Information for this story was provided by Friends of Hocking Hills State Park.