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Summit County Astronomy Club sets sights in Bath

Posted: September 28, 2017

by Wendy Turrell


Summit County Astronomy Club (SCAC) President John Shulan had hoped to open his club’s gift of a public observatory in the Bath Nature Preserve in spring. However, the club held a groundbreaking in September, and he feels the extra time spent perfecting the design will make for an even better experience.


Shulan explained the project took longer than expected once he found out that the simple building with a rollback roof required a $10,000 foundation. The foundation allows for extra stability and ensures that the observatory will be airtight against moisture.


Once the foundation is poured, the actual raising of the building, to be constructed by Lodi company, Backyard Observatories, will take just three days. 


Shulan’s summer months were spent working out additional design requirements and raising needed funds to cover unexpected costs, including the expense of five handicapped-accessible, pier-mounted telescopes for the observatory. Shulan said much of the money has been raised on the club’s GoFundMe page, He also received donations of five telescopes: three suitable for mounting on the piers inside, and two portable scopes that will be used outside when there is an overflow of viewers.


As of mid-September, Shulan and the club had raised $27,440, with an additional $13,000 needed to build pier mounts and provide two more 11-inch, user-friendly telescopes.


“The thing I find very exciting is that the community has been so generous with funding something that is not even built yet,” Shulan said.


He said a plaque at the observatory would honor all donors who made its existence possible.


Eventually, Shulan hopes to sell $20 annual family memberships to cover the approximately $2,500 yearly maintenance expenses the observatory will require. 


He said he wants “to make the scopes super easy to use, both robust and user-friendly.” 


That mission also prompted the addition of the piers, which will make the scopes accessible to users with various physical challenges. Three of the scopes he has now are computerized; they allow users to scroll through choices to set up what they want to view.


SCAC members will train teachers from area schools and interested members of the public to use the scopes and set up and close the observatory properly. Shulan hopes many schools will take advantage of the training to prepare science teachers so as many children as possible will be able to use the observatory.


Shulan was inspired to build a public observatory by a couple of encounters. 


“I heard an Akron Roundtable speech a few years ago by Cleveland Natural History Museum Director Dr. Evalyn Gates,” Shulan said. “She said, ‘If you want to recruit the next generation of scientists, you have to give them a live experience.’”


The second incident occurred one summer when Shulan went to the Maria Mitchell Association in Nantucket – named after America’s first female astronomer – to work with program interns. 


“When I asked them how they first got interested in astronomy, they all vividly remember seeing one of the planets through a telescope when they were kids,” he said.


Shulan and SCAC members hope the observatory will accomplish two goals: educate and share their enthusiasm about astronomy and provide a family-friendly recreational opportunity. In August, Shulan and another club member brought their own telescopes to the F.A. Seiberling Nature Realm and helped over 1,000 people view the solar eclipse.


“The study of astronomy is very in tune with nature,” Shulan said. “When I go out with other SCAC members, we often just sit and listen to the sounds of the night while people are using the telescopes. It’s delightful and often leads to philosophical discussions.” 


Although he said it’s a rare thing to see in cloudy Northeast Ohio, Shulan once saw a complete galaxy from the Bath Nature Preserve site off Ira Road, by the gardens and parking lot. 


“In Arizona, it wouldn’t be an unusual sight, but here, it is,” he said.


Once up and running, the observatory will be available for year-round use, as long as the weather is not too cloudy or cold (since the observatory will be unheated). Those interested in using the observatory can visit to access the schedule of viewing sessions. Observatory project updates will be posted there as well.


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