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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.” PCFL AmeriCorps Faith Johnson poses with all the items included in the backpacks. L.D. Bennett photo

Laura Dean Bennett
Staff Writer

Watoga 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.

“This is part of the ‘Dark Skies’ community education process to help our residents and visitors appreciate the valuable asset we have here in Pocahontas County,” Mary Dawson of the Watoga Foundation said.

“On 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.

“We want to encourage everyone to enjoy it and preserve it for generations to come.” 

“These backpacks will provide the means for everyone – visitors and residents alike – to enjoy our dark skies, and we’re pleased to play a part in it,” Libraries and Visitor Centers Director Cree Lahti, said. 

The 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. 

Hillsboro native and Green Bank resident Faith Johnson is the AmeriCorps member assigned to the libraries.

She was given the task of researching items to be included, and how best to purchase them and stay within the budget.

“Cree 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,” Johnson said.

“For instance, they advised that we’d need 50×10 magnification binoculars and a tripod.

“It’s taken about a year and a half, but the project is finally done. The backpacks are here, and we’re ready to loan them to the public.

Each backpack will contain a pair of 50×10 magnification binoculars, a tripod, two children’s books  [“There Once Was a Sky Full of Stars” and “Counting on Katherine,” the story of NASA mathematician and physics pioneer, Katherine Johnson,  from White Sulphur Springs], two guidebooks, “How to Explore the Night Sky” and “Simply Stargazing,” 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.

For 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.

 “The backpacks will be loaned out in much the same way as we loan out books, and we’ll try to be flexible in the length of time each backpack will be allowed to be on loan,” Johnson added.

Altogether, 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’t the libraries’ first foray into loaning valuable equipment to the public.

“We’ve had good experience with people taking care of and returning what they borrow from our libraries,” Lahti said.

“For some time now, we’ve had things like microscopes, telescopes, incubators and night vision goggles on loan.

“We find that both residents and visitors are careful about returning them in good order.

“Pocahontas County has great night skies, and we’re glad to help people enjoy them.”

One star gazing backpack will be available for loan from each library beginning Monday, June 21.

For information about Pocahontas County Library and Visitor Centers’ programs, contact your local library or call McClintic Library in Marlinton at 304-799-6000.

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