Open house for Banner Creek Observatory and Science Center is tonight
When the Elk Creek Observatory was opened in mid-October of 2000 near the Holton High School track, Mike Ford, then a science teacher at HHS, had no idea that the observatory would be as successful as it has been.
“I can’t believe it’s been that long since it’s been open,” Ford said.
The observatory, which has since developed into the Banner Creek Observatory and Science Center southwest of Holton, will celebrate 15 years of bringing northeastern Kansans a little closer to the stars with a “Chairman’s Open House” from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. today. The science center is located at 22275 N Road, near Banner Creek Reservoir.
The science center’s vision is to operate as a top-notch educational and research facility that attracts students, scholars and tourists to Jackson County, providing hands-on scientific education in harmony with the ecosystem and with Native American culture. But when it began as Elk Creek Observatory, efforts were mainly focused on studying the stars.
At its inception in 2000, the observatory included a a 14-inch telescope, robotic mount, fiberglass dome and CCD camera, all funded by a grant. Three years later, in 2003, the observatory upgraded to a 16-inch telescope, and in 2004, it received a new dome and a 20-inch telescope.
Over time, and under Ford’s guidance, the observatory earned attention — and respect — from national astronomy programs and from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). But despite all the accolades, a new home was eventually sought for the observatory, with Ford citing “light issues” and being in a valley as the main reasons.
With some help from then-Jackson County Commissioner Lois Pelton, Ford was able to pinpoint a spot of land at the intersection of 222nd and N roads that weren’t affected by nearby lights. He put together a proposal and took it to HHS alumnus Bill Zirger, and they helped assemble a non-profit organization to help raise funds for the construction of what would eventually become the Banner Creek Observatory and Science Center.
Today, the science center hosts a wide variety of activities, from star-gazing to geocaching, with special emphases placed on math and general sciences, environmental studies and local history, including that of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation.
This evening’s open house will feature a drawing for a one-year family membership at the science center, and visitors are encouraged to bring binoculars or spotting scopes for local wildlife. However, with tonight’s weather forecast calling for cloudy skies, Ford said star-gazing would not likely take place.
Fund-raising efforts continue for the science center’s planned expansion, and interested parties may visit www.bcscience.org for more information.