HARRISBURG, Pa. — The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources today announced it continues to implement changes at Cherry Springs State Park designed to preserve the “dark sky” experience while improving visitors’ satisfaction and safety.
Since its designation as a Gold Level International Dark Sky Park in 2008, attendance for the park’s evening programs has grown to unprecedented numbers. Recent traditional and social media coverage has catapulted some program attendance to over 600 participants.
The heightened popularity of this internationally recognized natural treasure has placed a heavy burden on park facilities and staff, as well as the integrity of the dark sky experience.
During the summer of 2015, the Bureau of State Parks announced its initial intent to implement a multi-phase project to preserve dark sky characteristics and improve viewing conditions at the park for users of the public viewing field as well as those using the astronomy observation field.
Early advancements include: improved interpretive signage; a review and posting of modified dark sky etiquette guidance; expanded amber lighting; and online registration for process for night sky tour programs.
Since 2015, considerable work has been done at the park that includes signage expansion, improved access; and surfacing of campground roads. During the off-season, physical improvements to the visitor programming\day use area parking and campground have been ongoing.
Also, more efficient visitor flow into and out of the Cherry Springs campground nearly eliminates errant white light on the Astronomy Observation Field during dark hours. In the very near future, a new restroom facility will be installed near the visitor programming parking area and a new parking-area exit road also will be installed.
Most recently, the Bureau of State Parks changed the standard-use designation of the Astronomy Observation Field from a day-use area to an overnight area in the Cherry Springs State Park management plan.
The designation allows the bureau to apply permit conditions for users of the overnight Astronomy Observation Field that are exclusive to Cherry Springs State Park and its uniqueness as an international Dark Sky Park. These conditions differ from other rules and regulations in effect at other state park overnight areas and campgrounds.
In addition, bureau staff have created an astronomy observation etiquette document applicable for any night-sky viewing scenario, for expert and novice alike, and ranging from a formal astronomy field to the back yard.
New documents will be available to the public by Memorial Day weekend and posted at park information kiosks and directly across the park’s main office. Materials also will be posted soon at www.dcnr.state.pa.us/stateparks/findapark/cherrysprings.
Visitors can check the Clear Sky Chart on Cherry Spring’s website for current cloud cover and viewing conditions at cleardarksky.com/c/ChrSprPkPAkey.html. The Cherry Springs Dark Sky Fun — the parks friends group — provides additional information about viewing etiquette at www.csspdarkskyfund.org.
Cherry Springs State Park in the Pennsylvania Wilds is nearly as remote and wild today as it was two centuries ago. Its dark skies make it a haven for astronomers. Named for the large stands of black cherry trees in the park, the 82-acre park is surrounded by the 262,000-acre Susquehannock State Forest. The Susquehannock Trail passes nearby and offers 85 miles of backpacking and hiking.
SOURCE: Pennsylvania Bureau of State Parks press release