LOGAN — Forty miles southeast of Columbus in the secluded and tranquil woods of the Hocking Hills State Park, community members broke ground on a project that has everyone’s sights on the sky.
Ohio’s Hocking Hills, known for its lack of light pollution and resulting clear night sky views, has long been a mecca for astronomy fanatics. Thus, members of the Friends of Hocking Hills State Park (FHHSP) supporters broke ground today on John Glenn Astronomy Park, named for one of America’s greatest heroes and an Ohio native. In addition, project champion and amateur astronomer Brad Hoehne was introduced as the Astronomy Park’s director. While fundraising is ongoing, generous donations and pledges from community members have enabled the project to move forward.
“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.”
Designed by Ohio-based M&A Architects, John Glenn Astronomy Park includes an 80-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.
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.
The Friends of Hocking Hills State Park organization invites the community to donate online at friendsofhockinghills.org and is seeking corporate, academic and other partners to help sustain John Glenn Astronomy Park. 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.
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.
Friends of Hocking Hills State Park is a 501(c)(3) volunteer membership organization founded to foster collaboration between outdoor enthusiasts and Hocking Hills State Park. Its mission is to ensure a better place for nature education. The non-profit group also works to raise awareness of and support for stewardship and fostering high conservation standards. In addition to bringing the John Glenn Astronomy Park to the Hocking Hills State Park, FHHSP programs are designed to enhance the visitor experience and safety in Hocking Hills State Park. Through countless volunteer hours and more than $365,000 in direct financial contributions, efforts have included a myriad of important projects, such as: donating an ATV, rope rescue and playground equipment; constructing a new archery range, Rose Lake wildlife viewing blind, Butterfly Habitat and Gardens at Old Man’s Cave and raptor cages; funding naturalist programs and education, live animal care, study and relocation of state Route 664 at Old Man’s Cave and campground map printing; among other programs.