Trevor Macduff likes to think big -- as in 93 million miles.
Macduff, a Richland teacher and director of the Three Rivers HomeLink program -- a public education effort to help home-schooled students -- envisions students building a scale model of the solar system and positioning it along the Columbia River at appropriately scaled distances.
The concept, which has found favor with members of the Richland Public Facilities District and staff of the Hanford Reach Interpretive Center, would teach students about the solar system and engage them in the community, Macduff says.
Macduff intends for the students to not only design the model and select the appropriate locations for each object of the solar system, but also have them contact property owners about getting permission to place each planet.
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"I want to let the kids become involved in the design, materials and in making the civic contacts," he said.
The project would involve home-schoolers who are participating in the science, technology, engineering, art and math curriculum at Three Rivers HomeLink, Macduff said. That program is called STEAM-Link.
The center of Macduff's solar system would be a 40-foot-diameter model of the sun, which he envisions being represented by a 40-foot arch placed in Columbia Park at the Hanford Reach Interpretive Center's future amphitheater.
Fred Raab, president of the facilities district board, told the Herald that the scale model fits well in concept with the Reach's mission to provide science education, but many questions remain about how the project would work -- and who would pay for it -- before the board fully embraces the idea.
"Trevor's idea has some nice merit, and it's a good location," Raab said. "Part of the dialogue we're having is to help (Macduff) become aware of some of the practical hurdles that exist in getting this done."
But the board did agree that it was worth spending some staff time exploring the concept, Raab added.
One of Macduff's students, Isaac Baugh, and the boy's father, Chris, who is an architect, have produced a three-dimensional drawing of what the 40-foot sun could look like. Macduff said the arch would be highlighted by solar-powered night lights and a human-sized sundial.
It would be artistic, iconic and educational, the 38-year-old teacher said.
About 4,300 feet west, close to Bateman Island and the Richland city limits, would be a model of Earth, a mere 4.4 inches in diameter, placed so the public could see and learn about the planet's relationship to the sun and other planets.
Macduff says Jupiter, the largest planet in the solar system, would be just over 4 feet in diameter and found about 4.2 miles from the model sun, mounted on a pedestal near the Amon docks in Richland.
The smallest body in the solar system, Pluto, at less than an inch in diameter, would be more than 32 miles from the model sun at White Bluffs in the Hanford Reach Monument.
Placing the solar system objects along the Columbia River from Kennewick to White Bluffs could be both a tourist attraction and an educational experience, Macduff said.
"It's a nice connection to engage people in science, history and ecology of the region," he said.
Macduff, who grew up and was schooled in the Tri-Cities, says the solar system river walk, not unlike the Sacagawea Heritage Trail, would be fun, educational and a great way to exercise.
"Imagine taking some kids out to the interpretive center and telling them you were going to stroll (93 million scale miles) to Earth and back (a little more than 11/2 miles round trip)," he said.
While $100,000 could see the project completed in six months, Macduff said the goal is to make it a valuable learning experience for the STEAM-Link students, and that means giving them enough time to go through that process.
Necessary funding might come from art commissions and Tri-City hotel/motel taxes, he said.
Even when the solar system elements are all in place, Macduff said the concept could be expanded outward to place markers on the plants' orbits.
"There could be highway markers on 240 and 395 to say: 'You just passed the orbit of Neptune,' " he said.
Macduff has pitched his idea to the Richland City Council, the Richland Arts Commission and the Richland Public Facilities District.
So far, he said, people have liked it.
The solar system project will resume in earnest in the fall when Macduff's students return to hear Phil Pinard, Richland interim parks director, discuss the idea.
Staff writer Michelle Dupler contributed to this report.