Amid the rain and cloudy skies, on Saturday October 1st, 2016, a ribbon-cutting ceremony officially opened the Roll-Top Observatory at Observatory Park, Turner Farm in Great Falls, VA. Tim Hackman, Dranesville District representative of the Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) Board, introduced all those who made the Roll-Top observatory possible through public-community-and-private funding. Initiated in 2007 in collaboration with the Analemma Society, the million-dollar facility was funded in part by the 2008 and 2012 Park Bonds, telecommunications funds, Mastenbrook grant money and a donation provided by Jean and Rick Edelman through the Fairfax County Park Foundation.
Ground breaking for Roll-Top began in 2014 and over the next two years the Roll-Top Observatory design by architects Shaffer Wilson Sarver & Gray of Herndon, VA, was carried out by the construction company Brown and Root of Arlington, VA.
Inside the Roll-Top Observatory a plaque was unveiled stating that the telescopes are made possible through the generosity Jean and Ric Edelman and members of the Analemma Society.
The Roll-Top Observatory will have three telescopes with room for a fourth: an 11-inch aperture Celestron, a 16-inch Newtonian, and a 7-inch Astro-Physics Refractor, all on adjustable height mounts. Beside the observing area underneath a retractable roof, there is an orientation room that will serve as an instructional space for education programs. Beginning this fall, the Analemma Society will provide public Friday night viewing and begin next spring, the Roll-Top Observatory will be the center for public classes on astronomy, sundials, observing meteors, and related STEM subjects.
In the early 1990's the site now known as Turner Farm was a Nike Missile Site. When the Defense Mapping Agency closed the site, Charles Olin lobbied FCPA and the community of Great Falls to turn the site into Observatory Park.
In comments at the ceremony, Charles recalled the Turner Farm Conceptual Development Plan approved by FCPA in July, 2000. This visionary plan called for a celestial observatory, radio telescope, support building for education and interpretive center, an international sundial garden representing sundials of different times and cultures, and a scale model of the solar system. Over the last 16 years significant elements of the plan have been implemented, with a great step forward in the completion of the Roll-Top Observatory. But there is still much to be done. Equipment for the Roll-Top must be installed and calibrated; the Remote Access Telescope Observatory needs to become a truly remoted asset for teachers and students of Fairfax County. There is still a Radio Telescope to complete, a Cosmic Ray Observatory to build, the design and construction of the Ibn al Shatir sundial and many other dials, quadrants and astrolabes for the sundial garden.
At the dedication, the words of Charles Olin's vision written in the FCPA master plan were reiterated: "The views through a telescope stimulate our imagine in a way nothing else can. Children who grow up being able to see these views will be indelibly enriched; this experience will live with them throughout their life. In this age of outer space travel, our future depends upon an appreciation and understanding of our celestial neighbors. This unique opportunity is available on this site."