Dark Skies event runs smoothly in second year; department continues to grow

By Nicole Hennessy

Avon Lake

Guests funneled in the door of Avon Lake’s Old Firehouse Feb. 17, checking out the photo booth, the dimly lit nighttime craft area, the space-themed tables and the ever-popular StarLab, a portable planetarium.

This was the second year for the Dark Skies, Bright Kids event, organized by the city’s quickly expanding Parks and Recreation Department.

The department’s director, Tim Pinchek, sat at a table helping kids match astronaut food to photos of fresh food.

“It’s the real deal,” he told one attendee, holding a shrink-wrapped, barely recognizable serving of cereal with milk.

Pinchek, who joined the department in 2016, said last year alone the department added 27 new programs, bringing the total to 48.

He also reported to Avon Lake City Council recently these new programs added $144,048 in revenues to the department’s budget.

A year before Pinchek came on board, Nicole Haas was hired into the newly created position of program coordinator.

The department is growing at such a rate that a new face recently joined the team: Hanna Knapp.

Of Haas’ role in the department, Pinchek explained, “With all her responsibilities, we felt her job description didn’t match her duties anymore.”

Haas will now be responsible for family programming, outdoor education and special events, like Dark Skies, while Knapp will take on managing sports and leisure programs.

Interns are also being added to the mix.

Haas said it’s not just the number of programs that have grown, there have also been an increase in attendees. This event, for example, was sold out at 180, and in 2016 more than 11,000 people registered for programs.

“I think it’s great,” she said.

When Haas’ position was created, there was a little bit of pushback from  city officials who wondered if an expanded department was necessary.

“I think we really proved ourselves and showed what an asset the Parks and Recreation Department is for the city,” said Haas.

National organizations like NASA and regional groups like the Black River Astronomical Society were busy talking space to young enthusiasts wearing their best planet- and astronaut-themed shirts Friday.

Outside, attendees peeked at planets and stars using telescopes set up by the astronomical society.

Back at Pinchek’s astronaut food display, Lucas Matuszak, shrink-wrapped food in hand, tried to identify the contents of each package, matching them to pictures of fresh foods with his mom, Gail Matuszak, looking on.

Gail said this is their first time at the event.

“We were excited about the StarLab, so that was really cool to see,” she said.


Attendees at the Dark Skies, Bright Kids event last week took their time learning about space at The Old Firehouse last week. Press photo, Nicole Hennessy.

(L-R) Gail and Lucas Matuszak try to identify astronaut food as Tim Pincheck helps out. Press photo, Nicole Hennessy.

Dark Skies attendees climb into StarLab, a mobile planetarium. Press photo, Nicole Hennessy.

Dan Walker of the Black River Astronomical Society helped kids use telescopes outside Friday, commenting how clear the skies were. Press photo, Nicole Hennessy.


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