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'A new experience': First public observatory for stargazing opening in Ottawa County

The dome will house a 16-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope that will be accessible to the public for stargazing experiences.

WEST OLIVE, Mich. — West Michigan's first and only public observatory to look at the night sky is under construction in Ottawa County.

"Folks in parks think a lot about nature and it being the soil and the plants, and the air, but sometimes you know we forget what's above us too," said Jessica VanGinhoven with Ottawa County Parks and Recreation.

But it won't be forgotten for long; a 15-foot Pro-Dome observatory will soon be a staple at Hemlock Crossing.

The dome will house a 16-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope that will be accessible to the public for stargazing experiences. 

"We're looking at the same stars that they've been looking at for generations," said VanGinhoven, "and for our community, it will just be this amazing experience right up close."

The Hemlock Crossing Park has accessible paths and trails, plus a wide open space for ample darkness, making it a great location for the dome observatory.

"We started looking at locations trying to find the right place," VanGinhoven said, "because you want somewhere that has enough sky and somewhere that's dark enough."

VanGinhoven added that the dome building won't be heated because having the temperature as close to the outside air as possible gives the best viewing experience.

The project started as an idea in 2012 from the Shoreline Amateur Astronomical Association and over the past several years, they've made it a reality, raising over $75,000. 

"We live in such an amazingly generous and philanthropic community," said VanGinhoven.

The telescope will also be wirelessly connected to the park's nature education center so it can project live images of the night sky and live stream on the parks department's website. 

"We just really hope this is a way to give people a look at something that they maybe have never seen before," said VanGinhoven.

The project is expected to be finished by the spring. You can read more about it here.

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