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Arts & Exhibits

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Fox Memorial Park Observatory: an outlying research resource

In Potterville southwest of Lansing is a superb local park that houses four season recreational facilities. This is Fox Memorial Park, which is under the control of the Eaton County Parks Department. The park extends over some 100 acres but not all of it is fully developed yet. There is a swimming beach, a fishing pier, a horseshoe pit and nature trails groomed for summer hiking or winter cross-country skiing. There is also a dark sky observatory available for public stargazing at designated times, as well as astronomical instruction. While the observatory bears some resemblance to the Abrams Planetarium and the MSU observatory on the nearby East Lansing campus (see the author's article at www.examiner.com), it follows a different mission, in that it is more accessible to a popular audience.

History of the facility

What is now the Fox Memorial Park and observatory had its genesis with the Paul Fox family in the late 1970's. They donated the land on which the facilities were built. The observatory came about twenty years later, in the fall of 1999. After a lengthy period of being run by local enthusiasts, some financial difficulties were encountered. At this point, the Eaton County Parks Department stepped into the picture and assumed control of the observatory. It is now a secured resource within this county's excellent inventory of recreational and preservationist assets.

Features of the facility

The current equipment at the observatory includes Meade computer-controlled telescopes, as well as Orion binoculars. Visitors are urged to dress in appropriate attire for stargazing, as the viewing takes place outdoors and throughout the year. It is a great family outing, but viewers are asked to bring their own telescopes and binoculars, if available. Coffee is provided for refreshment, and the only proviso is that viewing is not held if there is more than thirty percent cloud cover, so it is obviously advisable to check on local weather conditions before setting out. Fees are extremely reasonable, ranging from two to five dollars. All in all, this is an excellent addition to this area's growing scientific but still popular knowledge base.