International Dark Skies Week continues through today, Saturday, April 30, and events are being held across Virginia at four state parks throughout the spring and summer. Staunton River State Park, James River State Park, Natural Bridge State Park, and Sky Meadows State Park have been designated as International Dark Sky Parks by the International Dark Sky Association.
“As a state park, our goal is to conserve Virginia’s natural resources, which include the life that inhabits the park,” Natural Bridge State Park Interpretive Ranger Summer Holiday said. “Having a Dark Sky designation aids in preserving habitats we aim to protect by being a sanctuary relatively free from artificial light. These types of locations are becoming increasingly difficult to find.
“In metropolitan areas, you are only seeing a tiny fraction of what the night sky would look like in a place with no artificial light,” Holiday said. “With little to no light pollution in our park, those that visit can see hundreds of stars they normally would not see. Our Dark Sky events allow visitors to enjoy the view of our night sky and learn about the importance of preserving it by eliminating light pollution.”
Dark Sky designation recognizes areas and organizations working to maintain spaces where the public can see stars more easily. Nighttime light pollution is common east of the Mississippi River and with natural nighttime darkness disappearing, this makes stargazing more difficult.
“On a clear night, there will be telescopes set up to allow visitors to fully appreciate the night sky and depending on what is visible that time of year, visitors might be able to see nebulas, star clusters, planets and red giants,” Holiday said. “Rangers will provide information on how to navigate the night sky, point out prominent constellations and discuss how visitors can reduce light pollution at home.”
“Receiving a Dark Sky certification doesn’t always guarantee protection from light pollution,” Natural Bridge State Park Manager Jim Jones said. “Localities and businesses that develop can potentially threaten that designation. We hope that through awareness, programs and advocacy of the community, friends, and government that these resources will be protected. That an awareness of how light at night can impact not only nature but our health and wellness.”
Park events include self-guided nighttime hikes, astrophotography workshops, meteor shower viewing, lunar eclipse viewing and educational lessons about light pollution.