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"Yeah," agrees fellow volunteer observatory docent Jim DeManche. "Have you seen those survival shows where they take a parabolic mirror and put a cup of water [under it] and it boils it? That's your brain."
The solar viewing, he explains, is done with a smaller telescope that can take photos of distant galaxies. It uses a computer program to clean up and filter images, allowing viewers to safely see an image of the sun's surface, with sunspots and even solar flares sometimes visible.
Together with the iconic telescope here in the big white dome, this trio of telescopes and collection of dedicated and knowledgeable volunteers make the observatory a standout of the park system. "This [observatory] is most accessible and most active," says DeManche, noting that Santa Rosa Junior College, Sonoma State University and Pepperwood Preserve also have observatories.
The observatory is popular, and even more so during a meteor shower. (DeManche points out that there will be a shower during the next public viewing night, on Aug. 10.) "The thing is, this was all done without public funds," says Yeager. "It was literally all done by the docent community."
As of now, Team Sugarloaf wouldn't mind running the park past its five-year contract with the state. It draws in volunteers and keeps the future of the park separate from the state's funding woes, says Dale. Having the state "find" almost $60 million in missing funds, $20 million of which was designated for state parks, doesn't encourage public trust. But Dale doesn't think government shouldn't be involved. "I firmly believe the state needs to be the owner of the land, resources, cultural objects," he says. "We need to have that kind of public trust of ownership."
If things keep going as well as they have in Team Sugarloaf's first year, it might become a model for other parks. "I'm not hearing about anything else like this," says Dale, "where state parks are closing and people are stepping up."
Yeager, who was a docent even before Team Sugarloaf came to be, says the funding crisis has brought a new sense of ownership to the park's volunteers.
"This place is just so much more alive than when the state was running it," he says. "It's incredible."
LOCAL STATE PARKS OPERATED BY OUTSIDE ORGANIZATIONS AND VOLUNTEERS
Annadel Taken over by Sonoma County Regional Parks in 2012, returned to state control July 1, 2013
Jack London Run by Jack London Park Partners through 2017
Sugarloaf Ridge Run by Team Sugarloaf through 2017
Austin Creek Run by Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods
Bothe-Napa Valley Run by Napa County Regional Park and Open Space District