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Observatory project nears fundraising goal

Alexander Sinn • Dec 19, 2018 at 12:00 PM

A fundraising campaign to bring the first public night sky observatory to West Michigan is nearing the finish line.

The campaign needs about $17,600 to reach the $65,000 estimated cost to build an observatory at the Nature Education Center at Hemlock Crossing in West Olive. 

A donation of $10,000 was received this past week. 

The campaign is a partnership between Ottawa County Parks and the nonprofit Shoreline Amateur Astronomical Association, who hope to reach the fundraising goal by Dec. 31.

A 14-by-14-foot new facility would feature a 12-foot rotating dome and house a 16-inch Schmidt Cassegrain telescope. Plans include solar panels to power the facility and telescope.

Francisco Roldan, vice president of the Shoreline Association, said the facility would not require heating or other utilities, and solar power should be sufficient to power the operation.

Roldan, who moved to Grand Haven in 2007, is a lifelong amateur stargazer. While SAAA hosts stargazing events once a month, he’s hoping the new instrument can enhance those efforts and expand regional access.

There are observatories in Grand Rapids and Muskegon, he said, but none that are open to the public year-round.

“The primary goal of the society is education,” he said, “especially for youth. The first time a kid looks at Saturn and sees the planet, that’s what does it for me.”

The SAAA does not hold events at Hemlock Crossing in December, but on a clear night this month you can see Mars and the Andromeda galaxy, according to Roldan. Meteor showers are anticipated this winter, he added.

Roldan said his lifelong passion for astronomy began when his elementary school class took a field trip to a planetarium. He hopes a public observatory can get inspire new generations. 

“There’s always a curiosity,” he said. “You never know when a child is going to see something that is going to spark an interest.”

The campaign has received large and small donations, including several from SAAA members. The observatory is proposed for a portion of prairie located across from the Nature Center.

Roldan said reaching the goal this month is not a deadline, and fundraising efforts will continue in 2019 if necessary. 

Visit holland-saaa.org/observatory-project to donate. 

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