We recently learned of an unusual designation for Staunton River State Park, which is just 30 miles down the road from us near the town of Scottsburg. The park was just named an “International Dark Sky Park” by the International Dark Sky Association (IDA), a group dedicated to minimizing the effects of light pollution on the night sky. IDA is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization based in Tucson, Arizona that advocates the protection of the nighttime environment and dark night skies by educating policymakers and the public about night-sky conservation and promoting environmentally responsible outdoor lighting. Staunton River State Park the first park in Virginia and the 25th in the world to receive this designation.
Going one step further, Wanderlust Magazine published a list of the thirteen best stargazing spots in Europe, the United States and Canada, and Staunton River State Park appeared first on the list (“13 of the best stargazing sites in Europe, America & Canada,” by Hannah Uttley, 19 August 2015).
Why is this important? If you live in an urban area you don’t give much thought to how light pollution obliterates the night sky, where only the brightest stars manage to assert themselves. That makes it easy to observe the major constellations, but it is impossible to see with the naked eye such features, for example, as the Milky Way. You need to be in one of these dark sky areas to fully appreciate the expanse of the cosmos overhead.
An IDA International Dark Sky Park (IDSP) is a land possessing an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and a nocturnal environment that is specifically protected for its scientific, natural, educational, cultural heritage, and/or public enjoyment. The land may be publicly owned, or privately owned provided that the landowner(s) consent to the right of permanent, ongoing public access to specific areas included in the IDA designation.
It’s difficult to find such places on the densely settled Eastern United States, but given our remote location, this designation comes as no surprise.
This arose, in part, because the Chapel Hill Astronomical and Observational Society (CHAOS) has since 2011 organized twice-yearly star parties in the park after finding the park on a dark sky map, and their interest in the park made park management realize they had a unique resource to protect, so park staff took steps to reduce light pollution in the park and began the process of applying for this designation. Measures such as reducing unnecessary lighting, or using light fixtures that focus down rather than out and up, help maintain visibility of the night sky. The Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative helped by installing dark sky compliant bulbs in the park. Virginia State Parks Director Craig Seaver noted that “Going forward, we intend to apply dark sky design principles at other DCR properties and to utilize lighting policies that minimally impact our visitor’s enjoyment of the night sky.”
The Fall 2015 Star Party takes place October 12 to 18. On Saturday, October 17, the event is free and open to the public from 8 pm to 11 pm. Visitors can mingle with amateur astronomers to learn about and view planets, stars, nebulae and galaxies.
About Staunton River State Park:
Staunton River State Park is comprised of 2,400-acres, offering woodlands, meadows and shoreline along the Dan and Staunton rivers. Cabins built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps and a campground offer overnight lodging. The equestrian campground offers large campsites and horse stalls. Access to Virginia’s largest lake, Buggs Island Lake, offers freshwater fishing and boating, along with water skiing and many other aquatic activities. The park also has Olympic-sized and wading pools, picnic shelters, three playgrounds, tennis and volleyball courts, several boat launches and more than 17 miles of multi-use trails. River Traders, just outside the park entrance, rents canoes, kayaks, jon boats and pontoon boats.