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Work Begins at Observatory Park

After efforts to collect funds, goals are becoming reality

Star gazers and science enthusiasts can now smile with the realization that their efforts of trying to fund the Observatory Park project are in fact paying off. Work on Observatory Park at Turner Farm in Great Falls has begun — starting first with the recent restoration of the roll-top observatory building that already exists on the property. However, much funding still has to be contributed before the entire project can come to fruition.

The existing roll-top observatory building now has a fresh coat of paint, new windows and a secure door. But it still does not meet public access code requirements due to the remaining metal stairway which Charles Olin, founder and president of the Analemma Society, believes may have been a part of a military ship. Therefore, the public may not have access to the top portion of the observatory as of right now.

Plans call for the automation of the existing telescope which would in turn lead to the possibility of accessing the telescope via the internet.

Olin estimates the beginning of phase one of the project will begin during the late spring or early summer months.

"There has been a $100,000 contract for the automation and renovation of the roll-top observatory. This will allow for people to take automated photographs of planets from the Web," said Judy Pederson, public information officer for the Fairfax County Park Authority. Funds are still needed for the entire project to be completed.

THE OVERALL PROJECT includes an area consisting of pre-telescopic instruments, for example a sun dial garden, where children can create their own sun dials. There will also be an optical telescopic viewing area consisting of four telescopes within a roll-top observatory. A building for education and a museum, "to pay tribute to astronomy," said Olin, are also within the long term plans for the park. The Observatory Park would also house a radio telescope.

When all of these plans are executed, Observatory Park at Turner Farm will be a "full-spectrum park" said Olin. Last but not least, the grand plan also includes the addition of an equestrian area that would provide for a riding area, pony pen and access trail. "We have contracted a design consultant but unfortunately there are inadequate funds at the moment so we cannot push forward for construction," said Pederson.

On Jan. 11, 2006, the Fairfax County Park Authority published the agenda for the Planning and Development Committee for the year 2006-2010. Within this document lie the contract costs for the Observatory Park project at Turner Farm. According to the Fairfax County Park Authority, "The Park Authority Director recommends approval of the contract award to Technology WorX, L.L.C. of Ashburn in an amount not to exceed $189,542, for design of The Turner Farm. In addition, the director recommends reserving $18,954 or 10 percent of the contract contingency, and $11, 373 or six percent of the contract award for administrative costs." According to the agenda, "Funding in the amount of $219, 869 is necessary to award this contract and to fund the associated contingency and administrative costs."

Pederson added, "We have also recently contracted a design consultant to develop permit drawings for the newer roll-top observatory. This will house three to four new telescopes as well as a community area. Final construction should be sometime this year. Design consultants have also been contracted for a trail and sun-dial area. Observatory Park will be holding a dedication ceremony on Sept. 14 for the sun-dial." All funding efforts consist of bond programs from the Fairfax County Park Authority as well as efforts made by the Friends of Turner Farm and the Analemma Society in order to acquire additional funds.

THE ANALEMMA SOCIETY has found that acquiring funds has been slow yet successful. "Most people don't understand the importance of this park, they don't realize that the sky, the stars, are a part of our world too," said Olin, regarding the inability to attract attention. "You look to the ground and see nature: frogs, grass, plants. We look up. That's nature too."

"It's not an astronomy park, it's a science park. We look at the world of science through the fundamentals of astronomy. Astronomy was the first science," he said.

Olin believes that Observatory Park is a place where children may learn more than just about stars; they can learn two basic fundamentals, "1. Observing and 2. Measuring. The foundations of science."

The Analemma Society was founded by Olin in 1998 to create an "astronomy park where students can learn about the origin and nature of science as well as experience first hand the wonders of the Universe." The Fairfax County Park Authority had already acquired the Defense Mapping Agency site, now known as Observatory Park, from the United States Department of the Interior. With Olin's prior military experience and physics knowledge, Fairfax County looked to Olin for technical guidance regarding the park. The creation of the Analemma Society further aided in the expansion and improvement of Observatory Park, which can be seen today in its first steps towards renovation.

The Analemma Society consists of Olin, president; Gary Purinton, vice-president; Jeffrey Kretsch, treasurer; Tom Lemke, secretary, and directors: William Kemmerer, Michael McCombs, Jacqueline Olin, Roland Tibbetts and Eschi Warwick. The society is a tax-exempt and publicly supported organization.