Summer stars

Go to the Observatory

Whatever your interests, the cosmos is always worth your attention, right?

Here in Chico, we’re blessed with our own sweet little observatory. So instead of sitting in front of an idiot box playing video games or watching junk, wouldn’t you rather be looking at a globular cluster of 150,000 stars more than 10 billion years old? Talk about reality shows.

After flaking for too long, I finally made it over to the Kiwanis-J. Schwartz Chico Observatory near Horseshoe Lake parking lot in Upper Bidwell Park. What was I thinking? Everybody should go to this place regularly—it is yet another awesome thing that makes this town special.

Arriving, you’ll see a little white building off the road a bit (there’s a wooden sign on the left). Once you walk inside, there’s a computer screen telling you what’s on the menu tonight. Next door is a tiny open courtyard where two research-grade scopes are used to examine the universe in detail.

Knowledgeable volunteers help adjust the scopes and answer questions. Light music is playing, and there’s a cool, red-glowing vibe within the courtyard, which features black walls with painted planets by local artist Gregg Payne.

“The real reason this is here is for our local youth, to challenge them and make them think and use their brains,” says Kiwana President Kris Koenig. After 11,000 visitors came through last year (35-50 on any given night), you can bet Koenig and others are doing all they can to raise more money and keep improving the observatory’s capabilities (which just doubled recently with new 14-inch apertures). Hopes include rough plans for an outdoor subterranean seating pit where they can teach larger classes how to look at the stars using hand-held video feeds and light pointers—which would make the Chico observatory the first “outdoor” planetarium in the country, says Koenig.

The observatory is open Thursday through Sunday for three hours after sunset (park closes at 11 p.m.). Check out its Web site at