Stargazers, rejoice! Watoga State Park is on its way to becoming an officially recognized Dark Sky Park. Watoga has long been known as one of the darkest and most light-pollution-free areas in Central Appalachia, providing spectacular views of clear night skies.\r\n\r\nAt 10,000 acres, Watoga will be West Virginia\u2019s first Dark Sky Park. Expected to be included in the designation are Calvin Price State Forest, which adjoins Watoga to the south, and nearby Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park. Together, the three areas encompass 19,869 acres.\r\n\r\nAccording to the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA), a Dark Sky Park (DSP) is \u201ca land possessing an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and a nocturnal environment that is specifically protected for its scientific, natural, educational, cultural heritage and\/or public enjoyment.\u201d\r\n\r\nAs the largest state park in West Virginia, earning the DSP designation would add yet another feather to Watoga\u2019s cap. \r\n\r\nThe application process began two years ago, culminating in a 99-page application that included detailed measurements of night sky depth by local astronomers and light pollution maps, and resulted in the replacement of 181 outdoor light fixtures and bulbs to be dark sky-compliant.\r\n\r\nWatoga Lake, the Anne Bailey trailhead, and other areas in the park should provide scenic nocturnal viewing opportunities for astronomers, tourists, photographers and visitors. Future plans include educational programs and star parties for dark-sky enthusiasts at Watoga, Droop Mountain and Calvin Price.\r\n\r\n\u201cThe [pending] designation will put Watoga on the radar of groups or individuals who seek out dark sky facilities,\u201d said Watoga superintendent Jody Spencer. \u201cDark skies have always been noticeable at Watoga, where night hikes, nighttime boating, and owl walks are popular activities. I think the real benefit to park guests is the fact that light pollution in the park has been greatly diminished.\u201d\r\n\r\nStay tuned to our website (highland-outdoors.com) for more information on this exciting announcement.\r\n\r\nFor more information and visit the Watoga State Park Foundation - Dark Sky Project Facebook page.\r\n\r\nReprinted with permission from\u00a0Highland Outdoors magazine, Fall 2021 edition\r\n\r\n- - -\r\n\r\nJohn Dean is a writer and editor who grew up in Watoga in the 1960s. He is an active board member of the Watoga State Park Foundation.