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Small ray of astronomical sun happens from imminent Otter Creek Metro Park closure

Messenger Staff

The closing of Otter Creek Park, effective New Year’s Day, also means the closing of the only truly public astronomical observatory in the Kentuckiana area, owned by the park and operated by Jefferson Community & Technical College.

“At this point, we’re planning on locking the gate after Jan. 1,” Louisville Metro Parks spokesperson Jason Cissell said last week.

But as luck would have it, South Harrison County Park (located halfway between Laconia and Elizabeth, Ind.) has a brand new observatory at the ready.

Volunteer park astronomer Henry Sipes, who has performed those duties for the past two years at Otter Creek Park, said Jefferson Community & Technical College owns the facility there. The college has operated the center for about eight years, Sipes said, adding they were notified of the park’s closure the night before.

Sipes will continue in that stead as astronomer for the South Harrison County Park. Once the Memorandum of Agreement details are worked out between JCTC and the Harrison County Park system, JCC will operate the observatory with equipment from the Otter Creek Park observatory as well as a recently purchased instrument from the Louisville Astronomical Society.

Moving the equipment from Otter Creek Park to the Indiana site isn’t as hard as one might think, Sipes said,

“It’s not as sensitive as you might think,” he said. “The lenses are in a long tube and the other instruments, like the reflective mirror, aren’t something you wouldn’t be throwing in the back of a pickup truck, but they could be put on a car seat,” he said.

As soon as the MOA language is completed, officials are expected to start the process of relocating the equipment.

The new telescope, purchased by the Louisville Astronomical Society, is expected to arrive Jan. 3, Sipes said.

Courtesy photo
Pictured at left: One of the astronomical instruments officials are relocating from the Otter Creek Metro Park observatory to a similar facility in Harrison County, Ind. Volunteer astronomist Henry Sipes said the observatory will also house a recently purchased instrument from the Louisville Astronomical Society, pictured below.

Cissell said there have been no definitive communications between parks officials and representatives from the commonwealth of Kentucky or Fort Knox about taking over Otter Creek Park.

Officials from the state’s Fish and Wildlife Department had expressed interest in taking over the 2,600 acre site, located in Meade County near Muldraugh, as well as Fort Knox.

In an earlier report, Army spokesperson Ryan Brus said Garrison Commander Rick Schwartz had met with Metro Parks officials, but that was only to learn more about the park.

The “new” observatory will be open to the public and private groups and is only 15-20 minutes from the Brandenburg Ohio River bridge, Sipes said.

The South Harrison County observatory will have public observations twice a month – one at night and one during the day. Sipes hopes to eventually gain the interest of local schools to create a student astronomy club and if there is interest, having a few days through the school year for field trips.

Sipes said officials hope to relocate some instruments from Otter Creek Park to the new site and also will unveil the Meade refractor which the Harrison County Park system purchased.

College officials will be given a key to access the park, since they own a large amount of equipment at the observatory.

If the park were to reopen, Sipes said there is always the possibility the equipment could be returned, but said there was nothing in the agreement requiring that.

Small groups of students could be accommodated at the Otter Creek site, Sipes said “but under no circumstances could we have public events there.”

Sipes confirmed a slim crew will be on-site at the park, adding park naturalist Bryan Lewis will be moving over to Jefferson National Forest in a similar capacity.

“All of the people we have been working with will be gone,” he said. “They are only going to have a minimal staff there.”

The first public event is set for Jan. 10, which is the start of the International Year of Astronomy. About 400 years ago, Galileo Galilei discovered the four large moons of Jupiter and is considered to be the father of modern telescope astronomy.

In addition, Sipes said their first private group, a group of Lanesville Boy Scouts, will visit in late January.

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