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Frenchville Dark Sky Observatory available to star watchers and nature lovers

FRENCHVILLE, Maine — With summer winding down in the St. John Valley and winter weather a few weeks away — or so many of us hope — those seeking a unique outdoor experience before the snow flies may want to consider visiting the Frenchville Dark Sky Observatory.

Located off a dirt road in Frenchville, the observatory is just a small wooden structure overlooking an open field. Star watchers and nature lovers will find, though, that the views from the observatory are anything but small.

“It’s a great place to look at astronomical events — the moonrise, the sunrise and the planets. In the fall, there are hundreds of geese landing in the field,” said wildlife biologist Steve Young, who helped fund and build the observatory. “It offers a perfect, unimpeded view of the east and south.”

 

Young is president and founder of the non-profit Upper St. John River Organization whose aim is to promote an appreciation for nature in the St. John Valley international boundary area. The organization is applying to be an easement holder of the observatory property in partnership with the town of Frenchville.

 No telescope is necessary to enjoy the night sky at the observatory, as there is no light pollution at the location, according to Young.

“I would like to encourage families to go together or self-sustaining groups such as the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts or educational institutions; it’s a great place for field trips or things like this,” Young said.

Given the observatory’s location off unpaved roads, winter access is limited, although not impossible for the adventurous nature lover willing to strap into some snowshoes and perhaps haul a cozy blanket. 

The Upper St. John River Organization is seeking to improve on the site of the observatory by planting trees and constructing bird houses.

 “We are operating on a shoestring budget so if anyone is interested in volunteering we would appreciate it,” Young said.

The observatory is a result of the volunteer efforts of many people including Bob DeFarges of Madawaska, who worked clearing road access to the observatory and to nearby walking trails by cutting and removing fallen trees. DeFarges also painted a compass star on the floor of the structure.

 Jerry McLaughlin of the Upper St. John River Organization donated time and equipment to help make the project possible. 

Mike Starr of St. Agatha harvested and sawed much of the lumber used, and volunteered his time and equipment during construction. And Daniel Cayer of Grand Isle volunteered in construction and installation of metal roofing.

 The town of Frenchville provided battery-powered equipment and Young said he is thankful for the continued support of Town Manager Ryan E. Pelletier and the Board of Selectmen for use of the town Acadian Forest Habitat Management Areas for habitat, education and recreation. 

“We are trying to promote natural science education — astronomy and wildlife. Nature is all around here; I want people to use the observatory. You can drive right up to it and for those that want to take a walk in the woods, it won’t take much,” Young said.

 To volunteer or for information about the Frenchville Dark Sky Observatory, contact Steve Young at (207) 543-5050.

For information about the Upper St. John River Organization visit the group’s webpage.

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