[caption id="attachment_81782" align="aligncenter" width="600"]<img src="https:\/\/pocahontastimes.com\/wp-content\/uploads\/sites\/25\/2021\/06\/DSC_0740.jpg" alt="" width="600" height="397" class="size-full wp-image-81782" \/> As part of a "Dark Skies" educational initiative, something new has been added to the Pocahontas County Libraries and Visitor Centers. Each library will have, available to be checked out by residents and visitors, a "stargazing backpack.\u201d\u2008PCFL AmeriCorps Faith Johnson poses with all the items included in the backpacks. L.D.\u2008Bennett photo[\/caption]\r\n\r\nLaura Dean Bennett\r\nStaff Writer\r\n\r\nWatoga Foundation, Green Bank Observatory and Pocahontas County Libraries and Visitors Centers have partnered to make stargazing backpacks for those interested in night sky viewing. The backpacks are available at the libraries.\r\n\r\n\u201cThis is part of the \u2018Dark Skies\u2019 community education process to help our residents and visitors appreciate the valuable asset we have here in Pocahontas County,\u201d Mary Dawson of the Watoga Foundation said.\r\n\r\n\u201cOn a national light pollution map, our area is one of the darkest areas on the East Coast. That makes our very dark night sky a precious resource.\r\n\r\n\u201cWe want to encourage everyone to enjoy it and preserve it for generations to come.\u201d\u00a0\r\n\r\n\u201cThese backpacks will provide the means for everyone - visitors and residents alike - to enjoy our dark skies, and we\u2019re pleased to play a part in it,\u201d Libraries and Visitor Centers Director Cree Lahti, said.\u00a0\r\n\r\nThe Watoga Foundation applied for a Secure Rural Schools grant to purchase the backpacks, Green Bank Observatory provided input on what to include in the backpacks and the libraries will be checking out the backpacks to the public.\u00a0\r\n\r\nHillsboro native and Green Bank resident Faith Johnson is the AmeriCorps member assigned to the libraries.\r\n\r\nShe was given the task of researching items to be included, and how best to purchase them and stay within the budget.\r\n\r\n\u201cCree and I met with a group at the Green Bank Observatory - Sue Ann Heatherly, Amanda White, Bob Anderson and Amber Rexrode - who gave us some great advice about what the backpacks would need,\u201d Johnson said.\r\n\r\n\u201cFor instance, they advised that we\u2019d need 50x10 magnification binoculars and a tripod.\r\n\r\n\u201cIt\u2019s taken about a year and a half, but the project is finally done. The backpacks are here, and we\u2019re ready to loan them to the public.\r\n\r\nEach backpack will contain a pair of 50x10 magnification binoculars, a tripod, two children\u2019s books \u00a0[\u201cThere Once Was a Sky Full of Stars\u201d and \u201cCounting on Katherine,\u201d the story of NASA mathematician and physics pioneer, Katherine Johnson, \u00a0from White Sulphur Springs], two guidebooks, \u201cHow to Explore the Night Sky\u201d and \u201cSimply Stargazing,\u201d a compass, astronomy playing cards, a red light flashlight, a GBO notepad and various maps and instructions for finding the best places to view the night sky in Pocahontas County.\r\n\r\nFor those who may want to read up a bit on astronomy or who want to spark an interest in stargazing in their youngsters, there are numerous books on the subject for both adults and children on the shelves of the libraries.\r\n\r\n\u00a0\u201cThe backpacks will be loaned out in much the same way as we loan out books, and we\u2019ll try to be flexible in the length of time each backpack will be allowed to be on loan,\u201d Johnson added.\r\n\r\nAltogether, each backpack of equipment, books and supplies represents an investment of $300, but Lahti has faith that the public will be responsible with the equipment, after all, this isn\u2019t the libraries\u2019 first foray into loaning valuable equipment to the public.\r\n\r\n\u201cWe\u2019ve had good experience with people taking care of and returning what they borrow from our libraries,\u201d Lahti said.\r\n\r\n\u201cFor some time now, we\u2019ve had things like microscopes, telescopes, incubators and night vision goggles on loan.\r\n\r\n\u201cWe find that both residents and visitors are careful about returning them in good order.\r\n\r\n\u201cPocahontas County has great night skies, and we\u2019re glad to help people enjoy them.\u201d\r\n\r\nOne star gazing backpack will be available for loan from each library beginning Monday, June 21.\r\n\r\nFor information about Pocahontas County Library and Visitor Centers\u2019 programs, contact your local library or call McClintic Library in Marlinton at 304-799-6000.