Gaithersburg hopes to put some life into historic park -- Gazette.Net


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Gaithersburg is moving forward with plans to revamp Observatory Park, the city’s only national historic landmark.

At a mayor and council meeting Monday evening, Matt Bowling, Gaithersburg’s staff liaison to the city’s Historic District Commission, explained possibilities for new parking at the site.

Also, Nansie Wilde, the community facility manager for the city’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Culture, spoke about future programming options.

Observatory Park in Gaithersburg and five other cities around the globe are home to latitude observatories that tracked the wobble of the Earth on its polar axis through star readings to aid in navigation, according to the city’s website. The other observatories are in Cincinnati; Ukiah, Calif.; Mizusawa, Japan; Kitab, Uzbekistan; and Caligari, Sardinia, Italy.

The Gaithersburg Latitude Observatory operated from 1899 to 1982, when satellites replaced human observers, the website said. It is still active, but now includes GPS systems.

The park was restored in the 1980s and many of the park structures are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

An ellipse representing the Earth’s motion, lined by benches and landscaping, was created between the observatory and the meridian pier. When viewed from above, it represents the Earth’s wobble, according to the website.

In 1987, the federal government transferred ownership of the site to the city.

At Monday’s meeting, the City Council chose to support a parking alternative that will add eight parking spaces near the entrance of the park, including two handicapped-accessible spaces, and a bus pull-off area so that larger groups such as schools and organizations can visit the park.

Bowling added that the bus, to leave after dropping off or picking up passengers, will have to continue to the end of DeSellum Avenue and make a three-point turn in the cul-de-sac at the end of the road. All of the parking would have clear signage and be timed, he said.

All of the council members said they liked the plan.

“I absolutely agree with it. Otherwise, we would pay more money just fixing the grass because that’s where they’re going to park,” Councilman Henry Marraffa said.

Councilman Mike Sesma said he would like to see the project be sustainable.

“I hope that we will be using permeable materials,” he said. “If there’s any way to make it a green street to some extent or a green parking area, then that’s the way to go.”

Wilde led the second half of the presentation, on improving programming and public interest of the historic park.

“We have a number of community events currently under consideration to both raise awareness of the site and to educate and entertain the public,” she said.

She suggested that city-hosted events and events in partnership with other organizations would draw the community, including backyard concerts, movies in the park, storytelling under the stars, stargazing nights, and informational presentations and lecture series.

Members of the City Council were pleased with the ideas.

Councilwoman Cathy Drzyzgula said she liked all of the programming suggestion.

She said the community museum should feature a knowledgeable guide who can explain the significance of the site to visitors. Having less knowledgeable guides can be disappointing for those looking to learn, she said.

“I really think we should decide if we are going to have this open on Heritage Days, to have it open on both days, and make sure there’s someone there who really knows what they’re talking about,” she said. “If we can’t do that, we should just not connect it with Heritage Days and have it open on a day when we can provide those resources.”

jedavis@gazette.net