Ottawa County Parks breaks ground on West Michigan’s first public observatory


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Hanna Halstead, Staff Writer

This fall, construction is underway for West Michigan’s first public observatory, which will be located at Hemlock Crossing County Park. The observatory will be operated by Ottawa County Parks and the Shoreline Amateur Astronomical Association (SAAA), and there will be a ceremony to celebrate the opening of the observatory on Sept. 11.

The observatory features a permanently mounted, properly aligned and adjusted telescope, for viewing planets, stars and other space activity.

“Having an observatory brings in new members that are interested in learning to use a large, complex telescope,” said Francisco Roldan, SAAA president. “It also provides the visiting public with a rare opportunity to observe through a large telescope.”

When fully completed, Roldan said the observatory will have all kinds of visitors, such as youth groups, professional organizations, and schools. Needless to say, the observatory will certainly attract a lot of people due to it being easily accessible to the public, and not requiring a private membership.

Roldan said that in 2012, he had brought up the idea of building an observatory. Despite having the support of SAAA members, nothing immediately took off. That changed in 2016 when the subject came up again and this time took root.  Since then, the SAAA has been working closely with the Ottawa County Parks and Recreation Department developing plans and ensuring that the design of the observatory was within their budget.

In addition to funding, location was also a consideration. Roldan said Hemlock Crossing Park is an ideal location because it is a center of nature education. The park already has The Nature Education Center, which has many programs and amenities for those of all ages. The observatory will further enrich the available resources by adding one more educational area and point of interest.

With the construction of the observatory, the Shoreline Amateur Astronomical Association wants to bring astronomy to the people, Roldan said. They want to be able to inspire people to take up astronomy as a hobby or profession, and gain an appreciation for the night sky and embrace the need to protect it from light pollution.

Looking ahead, Roldan expects a lot of visitors once they are aware that a large telescope is available for observing such wonders as the rings of Saturn, far away galaxies, star clusters and more. In addition, the SAAA plans to hold special events such as watching meteor showers, lunar eclipses, planets when closest to the Earth. They’re also looking into purchasing special equipment that will allow stargazers to safely observe the Sun.

“I know this observatory will benefit the SAAA, Hemlock Crossing and the people of West Michigan,” Roldan said. “As well as the science of astronomy.”  

For more information about the observatory, visit the Ottawa County Parks and the Shoreline Amateur Astronomical Association websites.