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June 12, 2008

Pa. park wins "dark sky" designation

Pennsylvania's little-known, but much-beloved (by amateur astronomers) Cherry Springs State Park has been named an International Dark Sky Park by the International Dark Sky Association. It Photo by Jeff Ballis only the second park to win that honor. The first (last year) was Natural Bridges National Monument in Utah.

The best thing about Cherry Springs is that it is so far east, perhaps the last best refuge of the natural night sky east of the Mississippi. Almost everywhere else, Baltimore included, urban light pollution has washed out the star-choked night sky that our ancestors knew so well. Few of today's children have ever seen what the night sky really looks like. Ask your kids of they have ever seen the Milky Way. Ask yourself.

While it's not exactly an easy day trip for Marylanders, Cherry Springs is only a five-hour car ride away, in north-central Pa. And there's plenty to do once you get there, even with that pesky sun in the sky. And once night falls, the view on a clear night is stupendous. And the park folks have worked hard for years to keep it that way. It's a real astro-tourist draw. The photo of the Milky Way at left was shot by Jeff Ball at Cherry Springs. A long exposure exaggerates its beauty, but you won't be disappointed.

Here's the full release on the new dark-sky kudos for Cherry Springs Park:

Tucson, AZ, June 11, 2008—Cherry Springs State Park has been designated as the second International Dark Sky Park (IDSP) by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA). The announcement was made this week at IDA’s annual meeting in Tucson, Arizona.

This certification recognizes Cherry Springs State Park’s exceptional commitment to dark sky protection and restoration on public lands. The IDSP program was established in 2006 by IDA, a Tucson based non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the nighttime environment.

This Pennsylvania park has become a leader in night sky protection and appreciation, beckoning stargazers to seek out its celestial wonders. Cherry Springs State Park is located far from cities and among the forested plateaus of North Central Pennsylvania.

Cherry Springs is nearly as natural as it was two centuries ago. The park is not only Pennsylvania’s signature dark sky area, but offers one of the last best views of the starry sky in the Eastern United States. Cherry Springs State Park experiences almost no ―light pollution‖— the adverse effect of obtrusive light caused by improper outdoor lighting. It drowns out the view of stars, comets, meteors, aurora, and the Milky Way, but also impacts humans and the planet in other ways.

―If you’ve ever been annoyed at a neighbor’s yard light or robbed of sleep by a glary streetlight, you have experienced another side of light pollution,‖ says Elizabeth Hospodarsky, executive director of the International Dark-Sky Association.

―This errant light from near and far is a problem for nocturnal wildlife and has been identified as a substantial energy waste. The leadership demonstrated by The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and Cherry Springs shows that protecting the view of the cosmos also makes economic sense, preserves ecosystems, and maintains quality of life.‖

The state park has retrofitted all of their outdoor lights to be night sky friendly. Using readily available light fixtures that direct all light downward and combined with electricity saving 13-watt compact fluorescent lamps, there is more than enough light for visibility given the surrounding environment. Some areas of the park are even designated as no–light zones to protect owls, bats, and a host of indigenous mammals; and to allow astronomer’s and casual stargazer’s eyes to become fully dark-adapted.

Once adapted to the dark night, it is possible to see thousands of faint stars that would be washed out from a suburban or city location. Experience in remote parks, such as Natural Bridges National Monument, and communities, such as Flagstaff, Arizona, have shown that the night sky can indeed be restored by using smarter outdoor lighting solutions.

This designation by IDA is the culmination of a novel effort that began in the late 1990s by amateur astronomers ecstatic that starry skies were still accessible in the East. In 2000 the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) declared Cherry Springs a dark sky site in the Commonwealth. By 2002 the park was providing regular stargazing programs for visitors that proved very popular.

In 2003 Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation recognized the importance of the night sky above Cherry Springs and aided in implementing a strategic vision for the park that included telescope pads, observatories for rent, and educational materials all designed to facilitate the enjoyment of the starry sky. The light pollution free sky is also a tourism draw and benefit to the local economy.

Cherry Springs State Park is part of the Pennsylvania Wilds tourism region, a 12-county region in north central and northwestern Pennsylvania offering visitors remote, authentic and rugged outdoor experiences. The region includes more than 2 million acres of public lands, including 29 state parks, eight state forests, thousands of miles of streams and trails, and the Allegheny National Forest. Visitors to the region enjoy boundless natural beauty, unlimited recreation, and old fashioned, small town charm. ―This designation is continued validation that this region has something special to offer to our visitors,‖ said DCNR Secretary Michael DiBerardinis. ―We are proud of what we have protected, and hope our visitors will enjoy the remoteness of the Pennsylvania Wilds and Cherry Springs State Park for many years to come.‖

Further information on Cherry Springs State Park is available at or by contacting park manager Chip Harrison at 814-435-5010.

The IDA is working with several other parks towards IDSP certification; criteria is available on the IDA website at

Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:50 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Sky Watching

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About Frank Roylance
This site is the Maryland Weather archive. The current Maryland Weather blog can be found here.
Frank Roylance is a reporter for The Baltimore Sun. He came to Baltimore from New Bedford, Mass. in 1980 to join the old Evening Sun. He moved to the morning Sun when the papers merged in 1992, and has spent most of his time since covering science, including astronomy and the weather. One of The Baltimore Sun's first online Web logs, the Weather Blog debuted in October 2004. In June 2006 Frank also began writing comments on local weather and stargazing for The Baltimore Sun's print Weather Page. Frank also answers readers’ weather queries for the newspaper and the blog. Frank Roylance retired in October 2011. Maryland Weather is now being updated by members of The Baltimore Sun staff

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