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Observatory Park Being Developed in Great Falls

Landmark Observatory facility at Turner Farm will be state-of-the-art.

The Analemma Society of Great Falls is not waiting for physical construction of Observatory Park to begin initiating residents to the marvels of the night sky. On Friday evenings, weather permitting, members of the group are at the facility with telescopes to help new stargazers and give instruction.

There are several buildings planned for Observatory Park, but their construction is still pending until funding comes through. The Analemma Society is looking for funding through the 2004 Park Authority Bond Referendum and hoping that the bond money will enable the group to start developing Observatory Park at Turner Farm. The bond was recently increased by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to $65 million from $50 million.

An impressive group of scientists is advising the society on the park, which might emerge as a national flagship if it continues to be developed according to plan.

Dranesville District supervisor Joan DuBois has requested $1.7 million from the park bond for Observatory Park. Bringing Observatory Park into fruition will probably cost around $6 million, but if it is developed on the scale imagined, it will be a magnet park not just for the state but also for the country.

Spearheaded by Charles Olin, the Analemma Society has set down some lofty goals for the portion of Turner Farm known locally as “the Nike site,” where Observatory Park will be created. Plans include a museum, an educational center, an international sundial garden, a roll-top observatory and a planetarium, among other things.

Recognizing that park funding is tight, Charles Olin and his wife, Jacque, along with other society members, have looked for other avenues to generate the money needed for the project. “We’re starting to go outside of Dranesville, to get money from other districts so we don’t have to just go to Dranesville,” said Jacque Olin. Charles Olin added, “We’re going to serve other districts. Schools from all over are going to come here, so it makes sense.”

Kevin Fay, Dranesville District park supervisor, indicates that Observatory Park’s chances of getting funding from the bond appear good. “I definitely feel Turner Farm is up there in terms of projects we’re supporting. I expect that support to continue. How that will translate into dollars, however, is up in the air.”

Building the educational center is the key to launching the rest of the project because it opens up federal funding that is otherwise unavailable. Once that center is erected, other segments of the project can be built, and it is hoped that excitement generated from the public and the scientific community will drive funding efforts in the future.