John C. Dean
Imagine not knowing what a star looks like or never having seen the Milky Way Galaxy. Think about that for a moment. And then consider the following statistics:
In the U.S., 99 percent of residents can only catch a glimpse of the dim glow of the stars in the night. Hundreds of cities across America emanate beacons of light upward and outward from skyscrapers, office buildings, commercial development, airports and residences, just to mention a few.
According to a study by The New World Atlas of Artificial Night Sky Brightness, just 17 percent of residents worldwide can view a naturally occurring dark sky because of light pollution. In North America and Europe, 80 percent of the population and 33 percent of the world’s citizens cannot see the Milky Way.
Watoga and Droop Mountain Battlefield State Parks as well as Calvin Price State Forest are now part of an exclusive club of dark sky parks in the U.S. All activities and educational programs are managed by Watoga.
Receiving such a coveted designation in 2021 from the International Dark Sky Association (IDA) was an arduous three-year process for members of the Watoga State Park Foundation, which compiled 100-plus page application, including replacement of all noncompliant light fixtures with fully shielded, low intensity lighting. Other dark sky park requirements resulted in the limited use of lighted signage and flood lights, utilizing timers and developing a continuing education program.
Watoga State Park, Droop Mountain Battlefield and Cal Price State Forest are all certified International Dark Sky Parks and are the only parks in West Virginia with this designation. Pocahontas County lies in the darkest sky shed in the mid-Atlantic states.
The Second Annual Dark Sky Party is one part of the Foundation’s commitments to the public education requirement by the IDA regarding the importance of protecting the night skies for this generation and for future ones, as well. Other programs and activities stressing the importance and impact of light pollution are held at other locations, including Watoga, throughout the year.
“Light pollution affects humans and animals as well as plant life,” said Louanne Fatora, vice-president of the Watoga State Park Foundation. “Even the wondrous synchronous fireflies that exist at Watoga are a protected species and having dark skies is vital for their continued survival.”
How can the public help protect the dark skies and reduce light pollution?
“Do not install security lights,” said J. Perez, local astronomer and astrophotographer. “Instead, have them activated with motion detectors and have a cover that directs the light to the ground. Light directed to space is useless and causes light pollution.”
Now, it’s time to turn out the lights!
The Watoga State Park Second Annual Dark Sky Party at Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park Tower is set for Friday, September 22, at 8 p.m. Rain date is Sunday, September 24.
Multiple tabletop scopes will be available for use from the Watoga State Park Foundation.
Red bulb flashlights may be borrowed from the Watoga Foundation. If you bring your own flashlight, stop by the Foundation booth for red cellophane to cover the lens.
Children are welcome to attend, and there will be a table with artwork to entertain the youngsters.
Please feel free to bring your favorite chair or blanket and relax and enjoy “the show.”
No pets, please, not even on a leash.
This event is sponsored by The Watoga State Park Foundation and Dramas, Fairs and Festivals.