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Pocahontas parks earn Dark Sky designations

Submitted photo Three locations in Pocahontas County have become the first International Dark Sky Place designations in the state of West Virginia.

MARLINTON — Three locations in Pocahontas County recently became the first official International Dark Sky Place designations in the state of West Virginia.

Watoga State Park, the adjacent Calvin Price State Forest, and the nearby Droop Mountain Battlefield jointly received Dark Sky Park status as part of Watoga’s application into the program.

Watoga State Park will be the center of the Dark Sky programming and its activities for all three areas, which consists of 19,869 acres of public land in the county. All three areas are managed by the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources.

“We welcome Watoga State Park, Calvin Price State Forest and Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park with open arms,” said Ruskin Hartley, IDA’s executive director. “They now not only represent the state of West Virginia in our Dark Sky Places Program, but are also raising awareness for one of the largest and darkest skysheds within the eastern United States.”

A dark sky photography workshop with Watoga State Park is set for one night on May 7. For more information on the workshop, go to https://www.reflectioninapool.com/p/workshops.

Back in 2018, Watoga State Park Foundation’s Board agreed to pursue certification from the International Dark Sky Association. Watoga board members Mary Dawson and Louanne Fatora obtained grant funding to cover the costs of light fixture replacement throughout the park and recruited volunteer astronomers to take measurements of the quality of the night skies over the course of a year.

After two years of work, the new lights, which are aimed downward and are required to meet a certain emitting standard when it comes to the type of bulbs used, were installed at the park. The new lights allow the park sky to remain as dark as possible at night, allowing for better viewing opportunities.

“Watoga State Park Foundation is happy to have been instrumental in the pursuit of the recently approved Dark Sky Park certifications for Watoga State Park, Cal Price State Forest and Droop Mountain Battlefield,” John Goodwin, president of the Watoga State Park Foundation, said. “Many new opportunities now exist to study the heavens, nocturnal creatures and the newly discovered synchronous fireflies. This is a new and exciting time for the park and visitors. Not only can the park offer activities during the day, but now they can offer activities at night.”

The International Dark Sky Places program was established in 2001 to recognize excellent stewardship of the night sky. Designations are based on the quality of the night skies, stringent outdoor lighting standards and innovative community outreach. More than 180 Dark Sky Parks, Reserves, Sanctuaries, Communities, Urban Night Sky Places and Dark Sky Friendly Developments have received International Dark Sky Place designations since the program began.

The IDA is a non-profit organization based in Tucson, Arizona. For more information go to darksky.org.

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