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April 29, 2005

Powassan's Public Astronomical Observatory: A Rising Star

After an abortive initial attempt at establishing a large Powassan area observatory of economic and educational import, another effort is now being made.  A committee of regional residents, economical development people and members of the North Bay Astronomy club reported recently to a group of some 280 people at the arena in Trout Creek.  The committee is referred to as a regional committee because the project is intended to have a wide interest and support beyond Powassan.  Chair, Kay Todd, is from Magnetawan. 

Trout Creek, now part of an amalgamated Powassan along with South Himsworth is the focal point of the project.  The proposed site is on Lot 19 Concession 1 in the old South Himsworth abutting Laurier Township about 4km S.E. of Trout Creek.  The committee that reported to the large group of interested residents indicated that there is support from politicians, economic development people, schools and the general public. 

Leila Sherrif from the Ontario Healthy Communities Coalition who chaired the Trout Creek meeting stands in front of the map showing the observatory location.  Doug Mackey Photo

The North Bay Astronomy Club (www.gateway-to-the-stars.org) has two members on the committee and Todd Carlson from Huntsville, who writes for an astronomy magazine (www.skynewsmagazine.com) is also a member. Todd gave an exciting slide presentation showing the sights one can see using a good telescope.  A satellite view of North America at night showed that the Trout Creek location, providing darks skies, was ideal.  Merlin Clayton told of the tremendous interest in the club’s activity in the North Bay Area. 

Sandra Keillor, the Powassan Economic Development Officer told of the interest funding agencies like Fednor and NECO, who had representatives present have in eco tourism.  Powassan council has put 60,000 dollars up front to support the project.  Trout Creek which lost a lot of its economy when it was cut off by the Highway 11 improvement bypass would benefit tremendously from the project as would the whole area.  If even a small percentage of the estimated 1 million cars a year passing through stopped it would make a big difference. 

Members of the North Bay Astronomy Club providing a look at the sky for young and old after the Trout Creek meeting.  Doug Mackey Photo.

Councillor Roger Glabb talked about how the original location the committee looked at had a tower close by and was not acceptable.  The proposed 100 acre crown site surrounded by crown land SE of Trout Creek was ideal.  The MNR will make it available.  An observatory location can be found on the site that will significantly block the light from North Bay and nearby Trout Creek.  A nearby year round road on the old Trout Creek railbed line touches the edge of the lot so a road to the observatory is all that is required.  The road leads on to cottage enclaves on nearby Sausage Lake, passes Camp Dare, and ends up in South River.  A snowmobile trail runs nearby and would make the observatory a destination of interest for many snowmobilers. 

The observatory is a long way from being designed but would probably have beside a powerful telescope, balconies for amateur astronomers, a retail stop, a coffee shop and a classroom for lectures and presentations. 

The committee will put out a request for tenders for a business plan and feasibility study which the winner will submit by the end of the year.  Funding requests would follow and if everything follows as it should the project will proceed.  

In a question and answer period it was explained to cautions taxpayers that the aim is to have the observatory operated at arms length from the municipality.  A governing board would hire staff to administer the human and financial resources, programming and maintenance of the project.  Some funding would also come from the use of the project by school boards, Nipissing University, Canadore College, etc.  Ongoing grants, philanthropic, estate and business gifts and research grants would be encouraged. 

This is a project with a tremendous economic, educational and recreational potential that deserves our full support.  There is much work to be done and I think the old motto from my latin class years ago applies.  Ad Astra, Per Ardua – to the stars through hard work. 

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