The Dark Skies of Cherry Springs State Park
Due to its exceptionally dark skies, Cherry Springs State Park is one of the best places on the eastern seaboard for stargazing and the science of astronomy, which is the study and observation of planets, nebulae, galaxies, stars and other heavenly bodies.
A dark night sky is a natural resource, just like plants, waterways and wildlife. Recognizing that this unique resource needed to be managed and protected, in 2000, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources declared Cherry Springs State Park the first Dark Sky Park.
The Second International Dark Sky Park in the World
In 2008, Cherry Springs State Park attained a Gold Level International Dark Sky Park certification from the International Dark Sky Association in 2008. Cherry Springs was, in fact, the second International Dark Sky Park in the world. The International Dark-Skies Association and its partners certify locations with exceptional nightscapes as International Dark Sky Parks (IDSP). These locations serve as reminders that with quality outdoor lighting, the extraordinary wonders of the nighttime sky and night environment are just as much a part of our lifestyle and history as are the daylight hours. In fact, without the inspiration and wonders of the nighttime environment much of the world's history, art, culture, music, and literature might not have been created. www.darksky.org
What is Light Pollution?
Just as garbage can make a picnic ground less useful for picnicking, so can light at night make stargazing less productive because it makes it impossible to see faint astronomical objects. Light pollution is light that makes the night sky less dark and less useful for seeing celestial objects.
Low light pollution conditions, or dark skies, is one of the most important properties of a good astronomical observation site.
Light pollution limits the visibility of the Milky Way to the unaided eye, the visibility of nebulae and galaxies seen in telescopes and decreases the quality of astrophotography. Only the observation of planets and double stars is unaffected.
Why Cherry Springs and Why Now?
In 1998, Cherry Springs State Park was listed on Phil Harrington's Dark Registry (an astronomy internet site) a place that offers the darkest skies in the state. The description also noted the site that had a 360-degree view and "No light pollution sky glow … none in all directions." Several independent astronomers began using the park for observing the night sky.
Cherry Springs State Park became the location for the Black Forest Star Party in 1999. This is an annual event draws hundreds of amateur astronomers to come together and explore the dark skies of Potter County Pennsylvania.
In 2000, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources declared Cherry Springs State Park the first Dark Sky Park in the Commonwealth.
In 2002, the Stars-N-Parks Program began providing free astronomy programming to the public and the Cherry Springs Dark Sky Fund was created in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation.
The 2003 cover for the Potter County Visitor Association visitor’s guide featured the Aurora Borealis over Cherry Springs. This cover and the slogan “Potter County, Pennsylvania’s Star Gazing Capital” continues to be a key to the “untouched, unspoiled” tourism theme that defines Potter County tourism.
Late in 2003, DCNR launched the Pennsylvania Wilds Conservation Landscape Initiative to encourage the growth of tourism and related business in a 12 county area of north central Pennsylvania.
In December 2004, as part of the Pennsylvania Wilds initiative, Fermata Inc. completed the Early Implementation Conceptualization plan for Cherry Springs State Park, entitled Pennsylvania Wilds Dark Skies. (link possible) This document recognized Cherry Springs as a model site for viewing / hotographing the sky within the Pennsylvania Wilds. It also outlined a strategic plan for developing and enhancing the night sky recreation infrastructure, programming and staffing needs.
In June 2008, Cherry Springs State Park was designated as a Gold Level International Dark Sky Park, which is the highest designation given to a dark sky site.