Great Basin National Park is getting a world class telescope and observatory.
The national park’s foundation has surpassed its fundraising goal of $480,000, which will be used to purchase and build a research-grade PlaneWave CDK700 28-inch Observatory Telescope System, the first to be located in a national park. Great Basin’s isolation and distance from light polluting regions such as Las Vegas make it a prime candidate for night sky research.
Foundation Board member and Treasurer Mike Niggli and his wife, Linda, originally pledged $25,000 to the project. But at last week’s executive board teleconference meeting, he increased their donation to a total of $200,000, pushing the effort across the finish line.
“We’re so grateful,” said Dave Tilford, the nonprofit’s fundraising chair. “Credit is due to the Niggli family.”
The project is a partnership between the University of Nevada, Western Nevada College, Great Basin National Park, Great Basin National Park Foundation, Southern Utah University and Concordia University in Irvine, California. In addition to the Niggli family donation, funding has come from a wide variety of sources.
“In the last two weeks, almost every time I go to the mail, there’s another check,” Tilford said.
The Great Basin Heritage Area Partnership gave $100,000 early to jumpstart the process. In June, an anonymous donor pledged up to $125,000 to match all other donations made by the end of 2015. Once the goal was reached, the donors revealed themselves to be the David Nathan Meyerson Foundation of Las Vegas.
In May, Nevada public utility NV Energy donated $50,000 to the project. The Robert S. and Dorothy J. Keyser Foundation of Reno and the George S. and Dolores D. Eccles Foundation of Salt Lake City each gave $50,000 as well. The Roxie and Azad Joseph Foundation of Reno donated $25,000 and the Community Foundation of Western Nevada from Reno awarded the project a partnership grant of $10,000. The Cashman Family Fund of Las Vegas and Jack Van Sickle Foundation of Reno donated $20,000 each. The Willard L. Eccles Foundation of Salt Lake City added $18,000. Mt. Wheeler Power of Ely, CoBank of Colorado, the Utah Chapter of the Nature Conservancy and the Bretzlaff Foundation of Reno each contributed $5,000.
Last week, the Mount Cuba Astronomical Foundation added a $100,000 research grant, to be directed by Dr. John Kenney of partner Concordia University. Initial research will be conducted on the spectroscopy and photometry of rapidly rotating binary stars.
Fundraising will continue to finance educational opportunities at the observatory, from the elementary school level up to undergraduate and professional research. Much of the data collected will be accessible online for researchers and the general public. The goal is to have the telescope operational in time for the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary celebration Aug. 25.
“We want to start construction as soon as the snow is off the ground,” Tilford said. “I’d like to thank everybody with the foundation, all the board members and everybody that put in work since we conceived the idea. We want to thank the donors who came forward and who believed in the project. [Chair] Rebecca Mills was the stalwart behind the project to keep it moving. She’s been the driving force.”