Seventeen hours by car from where I live, just north of the center of the state of Pennsylvania near the New York state line, you’ll see on the Google Earth dark sky overlay an area surrounded by blue, which indicates where I live the best dark skies I can hope for. In the middle of this patch of blue however is a darker area, the coveted black spots where light pollution is nearly absent entirely. In the middle of this dark spot, this dark sky oasis in the state of Pennsylvania, is Cherry Springs State Park. It is here that two annual star parties are held, the Cherry Springs Star Party in late spring/early summer and the Black Forest star party held in the Fall. This place is perfect for star parties.
Accessible to a very large population in the North East, Cherry Springs is an astronomers haven and refuge. At the entrance to the park is a large display discussing the effects of light pollution, astronomy information news and events, and one of the best camping rules signs I’ve ever seen! My favorite parts:
- Astronomers with telescopes only.
- Overnight stays only.
- Red lights after dark.
- No vehicles after dark.
- Big RV’s stay out of the middle so you don’t block the view of the sky!
I was pretty impressed with my own local state park’s (Kissimmee Prairie Preserve) catering to astronomers by having some dedicated pads away from lights and trees, but they have nothing on Cherry Springs. There are four empty observatories that you can rent as well as ample power on the field for astro equipment. This whole park is aimed squarely at the amateur astronomer community.
This years star party was pretty well attended, and is probably only surpassed by the Winter Star Party among the star parties I regularly attend (I have yet to make it to TSP… ). The weather this year was rainy unfortunately… you win some you loose some. Last year was very good and I got some astrophotography done, and even some wide field milky way shots.
I’m thinking seriously of returning for the Black Forest star party this Fall, as the summer star parties are short on hours of darkness. Only 4 1/2 hours of astronomical twilight for imaging, and three nights to get it all in. You can of course for a small fee show up early and just camp like “normal”.
There are also other things to do here of course. For other members of the family (or yourself if you are so inclined) there
are plenty of trails for hiking, and some other nearby state parks too. I’ve seen a black bear and some deer while in the area, and of course there is plenty of flora and fauna to explore and photograph. The nearby town of Coudersport has a few family dining type restaurants as well, and a selection of small motels and even some cabins you can rent just off the main road. It’s only about a 20 minute drive from the gate of the state park, and as a vendor it’s nice to have a place to get away and clean up each day.
You are truly in the middle of nowhere… AT&T cell service does not exist at the park or in Coudersport (I often think the AT&T coverage map is an inverted dark sky map actually…), but there is Verizon, and motels in Coudersport usually have WiFi service. Forget finding a Starbucks, but Fezzes diner is a great place for breakfast… but make sure you bring cash because they don’t take none of that fancy plastic stuff!