Landscape of building and night sky at Observatory Park in Montville (photo by Andrew Gacom Photography)

Visit Ohio’s First International Dark Sky Park in Geauga County

Rookie stargazer Jason Brill tells how a visit to Observatory Park in Montville offers a connection across space and time.

With my non-full-frame camera, bargain-bin tripod and constant checking of my star-chart app, I stick out like a wayward comet at Observatory Park in Montville. Fortunately, the regulars with their tricked-out telescopes can’t see my shame, because the 1,100-acre park is almost completely dark. Part of the Geauga Park District, it’s the first place in Ohio to be designated as an International Dark Sky Park by the International Dark-Sky Association.

“Considering that we’re 31 miles from Public Square in Cleveland, this is a remarkably dark spot,” says Chris Mentrek, a naturalist at the Geauga Park District. “There is a nice elevation gain, which helps keep it dark. And the other big boost is the Amish population around the park. There’s not a whole lot of electricity used in eastern Geauga County.”

The dark-sky designation might be why so many stargazers continue to filter in as the light of the sun fades on this cool April evening. I’m just trying to keep my eyes on Orion. The constellation, along with the Big Dipper, is one of the few things I can readily pick out in the night sky. Holding up my star-chart app, I can see that Orion’s right shoulder (his right, my left) is Betelgeuse, a reddish star that’s something like 500 to 600 light years away. At first, I thought it was Mars, but my app confirms that’s a little farther up in the sky. In my defense, they’re both red.

For those who want to delve deeper, Observatory Park offers programming such as planetarium demonstrations and night-sky viewing through one of its two large telescopes, including one originally used at the Warner and Swasey Observatory in East Cleveland.

Luckily, I can see Orion just fine with the naked eye, every so often snapping a wobbly photo. As the sky gets darker and more stars become visible, I can make out more of the mythical Greek hunter, including something I’ve never noticed before. Orion’s sword seems a little cloudy. Pulling up my app, I zoom in to discover the cloud is the Orion Nebula.

Around 1,300 light years away, the cloud of dust and gas is where stars are born. According to NASA, the Mayans believed the nebula to be the cosmic fire of creation surrounded by smoke, while ancient Egyptians thought the stars in Orion’s belt signified the resting place of the soul of the god Osiris. 

As I get lost in the nebula, more stargazers walk by me, looking for their own little slice of Earth to set up. I can’t see them, but I can hear them. It’s then that I notice something else. In addition to English, I hear other languages. First bits of Arabic, then Mandarin. Here we are, together — people with backgrounds tied to different parts of the globe — gazing up at the night sky in the same park on the same night, all hoping to understand our place in the universe just a little bit better.  

10610 Clay St., Montville 44064,