Hocking Hills Launches Phase 2 Of John Glenn Astronomy Park

Nestled in the rolling Southeast Ohio hills about 130 miles from Wheeling, in the secluded and tranquil woods of the Hocking Hills State Park, community members are setting their sights on the sky and a new park named for Ohio’s most famous astronaut.

Ohio’s Hocking Hills, best known for its pristine forests, hiking trails and sandstone rock formations, also has become a mecca for astronomy fanatics because of its lack of light pollution and resulting clear night sky views. Shortly before his death on Dec. 8, former Ohio Sen. John Glenn, an East Ohio native and the first American to orbit the earth, gave his blessing to the Friends of Hocking Hills State Park to name a new astronomy park after him.

With the first phase already completed, the second phase of fundraising for the John Glenn Observatory and Astronomy Park has now begun.

“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 Friends’ 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.”

Through generous donations and pledges from community members, the project already has secured more than 50 percent of the necessary funding to build and endow the park. Phase 2 fundraising efforts for the facility are aimed at securing the final $800,000 of the project’s $1.6 million budget.

FILE - In this Jan. 25, 2012, file photo, John Glenn poses for a photo during an interview at his office in Columbus, Ohio. Glenn's home state and the nation will begin saying goodbye to the famed astronaut as he lies in state at Ohio's capitol building. A public viewing for the first American to orbit Earth is scheduled to stretch at least eight hours starting at noon on Friday, Dec. 16, 2016, in Columbus. The 95-year-old Glenn died last week. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete, File)

Preliminary design for John Glenn Astronomy Park is complete. With an ideal elevation of 1,000 feet, the park will be located near Old Man’s Cave in Hocking Hills State Park. Land for the astronomy park will be leased to the Friends organization by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources for $1.

Designed by Ohio-based M&A Architects, John Glenn Astronomy Park includes an 18-foot 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.

A number of major learning institutions and research organizations have expressed interest in using the facility for research.

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.

This undated photo made available by NASA shows astronaut John Glenn in his Mercury flight suit. Glenn, the first American to orbit Earth who later spent 24 years representing Ohio in the Senate, died Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016, at the age of 95. (NASA via AP)

“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.

The Friends of Hocking Hills invites people to donate to the project online at friendsofhockinghills.org and is seeking corporate, academic and other partners to help take the project to completion. Companies, institutions and organizations wishing to support the project may call 877-403-4477.

The 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. 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.

Photo Provided This satellite image provided by the Friends of Hocking Hills State Park shows light pollution in and around Ohio while pointing to a dark area where the park is located in Logan County. The lack of light pollution makes it an ideal spot for stargazing.

The casket of John Glenn rests below a screen displaying an archival photo of his boarding the Friendship 7 capsule during his funeral at The Ohio State University, Saturday, Dec. 17, 2016, in Columbus, Ohio. Glenn, the famed astronaut, died Dec. 8 at age 95. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)