Turner Farm observatory volunteer earns gold star from Fairfax County Park Authority

For one night this fall, Dr. Jeffrey Kretsch will get to bask in the spotlight as well as the starlight that more regularly illuminates his work at the Turner Farm Observatory Park in Great Falls.

Kretsch is one of three volunteers — and the only individual — who will be honored by the Fairfax County Park Authority with its 2021 Elly Doyle Park Service Awards, which recognize community members and organizations that contribute their time and expertise to support the county’s park system.

As a member of the Analemma Society, a nonprofit that promotes astronomy, Kretsch has logged more than 1,784 hours of volunteer service at Observatory Park since 2012, according to the park authority’s news release.

“I was surprised to hear of getting the award, and greatly appreciate the recognition,” Kretsch said in a statement to Reston Now. “I enjoy doing this, and get satisfaction helping bring our programs to the public. I work with a lot of volunteers and park staff who make this possible.”

The Analemma Society works with the park authority to host public, after-hours viewing sessions at Turner Farm’s roll-top observatory and classroom almost every Friday. The group also organizes special sessions for celestial events like the Perseid meteor shower that filled the sky earlier this month.

When the observatory shut down last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Kretsch helped the park authority pivot to virtual programming, including by leading lectures and encouraging other volunteers to follow suit.

According to the park authority, he also “spent considerable time” helping the park authority fill out an application to get Observatory Park designated as an International Dark Sky Place, a program that started in 2001 to recognize parks, communities, and other sites that preserve the night sky for scientific, natural, educational, or recreational purposes.

Virginia currently has five Dark Sky Places — four state parks and Rappahannock County Park — but none in Fairfax County or even Northern Virginia, the International Dark-Sky Association’s map shows.

When Observatory Park reopened for the public viewing sessions on June 18, Kretsch could once again share his interest in stargazing and astronomy with other community members in person, rather than from behind a computer screen.

“Interacting with families and the kids is the best part,” he said. “I have been doing this awhile now, long enough that every once in a while an adult comes up to me and says they remember coming as a child and how it inspired them to go on. That is what is the most rewarding.”

The other recipients of this year’s Elly Doyle awards are:

  • The Friends of Accotink Creek, which helps protect the local watershed by removing trash, planting native trees, and supporting educational programs
  • Volunteers from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints’ D.C. South Mission, who spent the past year clearing invasive species from an area at Lake Accotink Park in Springfield and replaced them with native plants

Established on Dec. 20, 1988, the awards are named after former Park Authority Board of Directors Chairman Elly Doyle for her “years of outstanding service toward the preservation of parkland and establishment of natural and recreational areas for the benefit of Fairfax County residents,” according to the FCPA news release.

This year’s winners will be recognized with a virtual ceremony in November. Their names will also be added to a bronze plaque at the Fairfax County Government Center.

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