Cherry Springs Dark Skies: A Stargazer’s Paradise
In 1998, a Cherry Springs Park Ranger noticed a man peering through a telescope in a park field during the wee hours of the morning. Curious, the ranger approached the astronomer.
The astronomer explained he had been looking at some nighttime satellite photos and couldn’t help but notice that this precise location showed up as a big black blob in the photos and quite possibly a prime “dark sky” location for star gazing.
He was right.
Since that star-filled early morning, the place has never been quite the same.
Soon, word got around.
Others with telescopes began showing up. In droves.
Nestled in the 262,000-acre Susquehannock State Forest along State Route 44 in Potter County, the 82-acre Cherry Springs State Park is named for the enormous stands of black cherry trees indigenous to the area.
The night skies above Cherry Springs are among the darkest in the United States, which attracts people from all over the country for exceptional night-sky views, especially around a new moon phase.
Where else can you see your own shadow just from the illumination of the nucleus of the Milky Way? The astronomy field offers an excellent 360 view of the night sky.
The park’s incredible and unique features are highlighted in the Dark Skies Landscape of the Pennsylvania Wilds.
So remote is this area and far from the “light pollution” of towns and cities. The nearest big city is Williamsport, 60 miles to the southeast. Because Cherry Springs sits atop the Allegheny Plateau at an elevation of 2300 feet, the lights of nearby towns such as Galeton and Coudersport are below the terrain line-of-sight, protecting it from light pollution.
In 1999, the Cherry Springs Dark Sky Fund/Association was established and continues its mission to enhance the stargazing experience by funding improvements at the park.
Just like plants, wildlife and aquatic life, the dark sky is considered a natural resource. So, in 2000, the commonwealth’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) designated Cherry Springs a Dark Sky location. In 2008, it was designated as a Gold Level Dark Sky by the International Dark Sky Association (IDA) declaring it one of the best places in the nation to stargaze.
DCNR offers valuable tips for those interested in taking in the heavens from Cherry Springs:
There are two venues for night viewing.
The Night Sky Public Viewing Area and Overnight Astronomy Field. The Night Sky Public Viewing Area is intended for short term (a few hours or less) star gazing and is not permitted for overnight stays. The Overnight Astronomy Observation Field is open to registered users all night.
Astronomers using the Astronomy Observation Field are required to register and pay a fee. The park bulletin board has a fee schedule and a fee payment envelope. Please follow the written instructions, posted fee schedule, list your location on the field so that you can be located in an emergency, then deposit it in the fee tube.
As for the Night Sky Viewing area located north of Rt. 44, opposite the gated Astronomy Observation Field, public parking is available along with several informational kiosks and waysides.
All lights must have red filters or need to be fully shielded. White light is prohibited on the Astronomy Observation Field. Green laser pointers are also prohibited in the park at all times.
Atop a mountain, Cherry Springs weather generally tends to be on the cool side. It can also be damp. It is recommended that you wear proper clothing and foot gear. When you visit the park, feel free to bring your own blankets, lawn chairs, binoculars and telescopes.
Wi-Fi access is available within the Overnight Astronomy Observation Field for patrons, but some restrictions may apply. Wi-Fi is not available in the Night Sky Viewing areas. Because Cherry Springs is remote, most cell phones don’t have network coverage.
Emergency information and phone numbers are posted at the registration kiosk. Potter County is a part of the 911 Emergency Service System. A pay phone is located near the public parking lot.
Pets are not allowed on the Astronomy Observation Field while the field is in use or at public night sky programs.
Alcoholic beverages are strictly prohibited in Pennsylvania state parks and all state park regulations apply.
Please be advised there are certain nights viewing is closed to the public for private astronomy gatherings. Please check DCNR’s website for updates and other information, including traffic alerts in the area.