[Darksky]Dark sky parks

Jan Hollan
Fri, 20 Jul 2001 13:45:14 +0200 (CEST)

A really interesting and inspiring article from the 
    Linkname: Yahoo! Groups : OutdoorLighting-Forum
        URL: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/outdoorlighting-forum

   Date: Thu, 19 Jul 2001 10:31:04 EDT
   From: bemusabordAaol...
Subject: The ultimate fate of the stars!

        If you've looked at the satellite photos of the US at night from 
different years it is quite plain that the situation is getting worse VERY 
quickly and even assuming the best possible outcome, many areas have already 
been lost and will never be reclaimed.  Even with what progress is being made 
in the light pollution war I suspect the only thing that will ultimately be 
accomplished, at best, will be to slow the growth of light pollution.  
       For the vast majority of the population of North America the night sky 
is no longer velvety black, bejeweled with twinkling stars and spanned by the 
vast arch of the Milky Way,  It is instead, a bright, milky orange sky awash 
in the glow of scattered sodium vapor light from poorly designed light 
fixtures and almost completely devoid of stars.  For anyone younger than a 
baby-boomer, the likelihood that they have ever experienced the true majesty 
of a dark and star-spangled country sky is indeed remote and it is entirely 
possible they have seen nothing in the night sky other than the Moon.  In 
today’s world the twin blights of sprawl and light pollution have made dark, 
star-filled skies perhaps the most immediately endangered natural resource in 
North America.  
       Because so few people now live under dark skies, most people’s only 
access to truly pristine skies will come when they are on vacation far away 
from the the city skyglow.  For that average park user, stargazing often 
isn’t even on their personal radar when they visit a dark-sky park.  However, 
many city bound people are so stunned by what they’ve been missing that by 
the end of their visit to that park, it may well be a major factor in where 
they take their next vacation.  
       Interestingly, many thousands of the estimated 1/4 million active 
stargazers in North America have been eco-tourists for over 20 years and for 
them getting to dark skies is the primary reason that they travel.  These 
wanderers often travel to North America’s most rural parks and also on 
expeditions to far flung locations like: South America, Austrailia, New 
Zealand and Africa in search of dark skies.
       By the mid 1990’s dedicated astronomy inns were starting to pop up and 
a handful of parks were running active stargazing programs under the dark, 
rural skies of some western states.  Unfortunately though, the vast majority 
of people are either unaware of their existence or they don’t have access to 
these programs because they are too far away or too expensive. 
       To understand what motivates amateur astronomers in their unique 
travel and educational habits you first have to look at the demographics of 
those amateur stargazers.  Most are between the ages of 35 and 65, many are 
highly educated and most are financially secure.  In the next few years there 
will be a tidal wave of amateur astronomers retiring and actively seeking 
darker skies.  Second and perhaps most importantly is their near-universal 
desire to share the joy they find in the night sky with others, as evidenced 
by the massive public education resources that astronomy clubs all over North 
America roll out every weekend.  In short, they love to teach.  
     Unlike most current retirees, in their retirement you will be much more 
likely to find these people teaching in a classroom or sharing their 
telescopes with others under dark country skies than to find them on the golf 
course or at McDonalds chating over breakfast.  These amateur astronomers 
will represent the largest volunteer science education resource ever made 
available in North America and the Stars-In-The-Parks program is designed 
specifically to facilitate the maximum utilization of this amazing resource 
by getting educational programs going all over the country. 
       In 1992, during my own search to find darker skies than I had at home, 
I discovered a small, very under-utilized park in rural north-central 
Pennsylvania called Cherry Springs State Park.  This former C.C.C. camp 
turned park had superbly dark skies, high elevation and a large open field 
perfect for astronomical observing.  As I observed there alone many times 
over the next few years, I mused on how:  1) parks would soon be the last 
places with dark skies in many areas (especially in the eastern half of the 
country)  2) how to protect those dark-sky enclaves  3) how to get more 
amateur astronomers to utilize the rural parks as educational sites and 4) 
how to get the park-using public to join those amateur astronomers for both 
fun and education.
       By the spring of 1999 I had partnered with the National Public 
Observatory (a 501c3 educational not-for-profit based in Radium Springs, NM) 
to assist in the nationwide promotion of the Stars-In-The-Parks concept.  Our 
aim was to develop a national plan for marrying the dark-sky and facility 
resources of parks with the volunteer educational expertise and equipment 
amateur astronomers could supply to produce a working program that could be 
used all over the North America.    But where to start?  Cherry Springs 
popped into my mind immediately as the perfect prototype park to test the 
concept.  All I had to do was figure out how to “sell” the idea to park 
management.  After thinking about it for a while I finally thought to myself, 
'just ask the park manager, all he can do is say no'.  I was fortunate to 
find an enthusiastic and receptive audience in Cherry Springs State Park 
manager Chip Harrison who was more than ready to listen to a plan that would 
greatly increase park use.  
       We have since forged a partnership that has created a unique 
stargazing program and eco-tourism destination.  But more importantly, that 
partnership has itself created still other partnerships that leverage our 
strengths even further.  
       We have vastly increased park attendance (and incidentally decreased 
vandalism and littering), on virtually every dark-of-moon weekend scores of 
amateur astronomers observe from the park and share their telescopes and 
wisdom with anyone who comes to the park.  A major astronomy conference, the 
Black Forest Star Party,  is also held at Cherry Springs now.  This 
weekend-long gathering of three to four hundred amateur astronomers is part 
educational seminar, part trade show, part social gathering and part 
observing outting.  
       The local electric utility, Tri-County Rural Electric Coop, has 
pitched in by installing full-cutoff shields on outdoor lights in the area 
which are purchased with profits from t-shirts sold to people who stargaze 
from the park and then donated to area business and individuals, further 
improving the already excellent sky conditions.
  The local tourist economy has also seen the benefit of this new park use 
with nearby stores, resteraunts, motels and B&B's and even other daytime 
attractions like the PA. Lumber Museum all reaping significant dollars from 
this new tourist influx.   
       This summer we have started regularly scheduled educational observing 
sessions.  Beginning in the fall a new partnership with the local science 
teachers association will see us begin to provide astronomy education to 
local school classes.  By next year my wife and will be living on-site at 
Cherry Springs State Park as volunteer astronomy-educators serving not only 
Cherry Springs State Park, but also campers and park users at five other 
nearby state parks too.  We will be available on weekends during the 
seven-month observing season.  After we retire we hope to do this full-time  
Stargazing sessions and an ongoing series of lectures and educational 
activities designed specifically for novice stargazers will be the focus of 
the program.
     Over the next few years we hope to bring many parks into the National 
Public Observatory's Stars-In-The-Parks program.  Stars-In-The-Parks is all 
about partnerships that produce tangible and positive benfits for parks, 
amateur astronomers and the general park population, a true win-win situation 
for everyone.  

If you'd like more info on the Stars-In-The-Parks program and the National 
Public Observatory go to:


Thom Bemus