Virginia is confident that it can leave tourists who enjoy nighttime celestial displays star-struck.
Two more Virginia state parks have been designated International Dark Sky Parks by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA), propelling the state into the top spot on America’s East Coast for stargazing.
Virginia now offers five certified locations for some of the best night-sky views on earth.
Natural Bridge State Park and Sky Meadows State Park are the two newest additions to Virginia’s roster, both receiving the designation in April. Staunton River State Park was designated in 2015 and James River State Park in 2019. Rappahannock County Park, mere miles east of Shenandoah National Park and only several miles from the world-famous Appalachian Trail, is Virginia’s fifth official Dark Sky Park, also receiving the designation in 2019.
“Many people appreciate the Dark Sky Parks,” says Brigitte Belanger-Warner of the Virginia Tourism Corporation. “From amateur astronomers to beginner stargazers, guests can enjoy programs of different kinds: Shenandoah National Park offers a Night Sky Festival, full of ranger programs and activities to help celebrate our disappearing dark skies. The park also offers Exploring The Skies astronomy presentations, Night Skies programs with amateur astronomers, and Twilight Hiking with Shenandoah Mountain Guides. Virginia’s State Parks also provide a full array of programs where guests can gaze, learn, or just soak in the beautiful Virginia night.”
The International Dark-Sky Association is the recognized authority on light pollution and the leading organization combating light pollution worldwide.
Belanger-Warner says it’s no surprise that her jurisdiction has so many options for those eager to see nighttime skies as nature intended them to be.
“Virginia is a big state with many areas sheltered from light pollution,” she reports. “The state now has 5 designated areas. The 5 designated sites are mainly located on the west side of our state and the Dark Sky Parks are the ideal locations for stargazing.”
Becoming an official Dark Sky Park is no easy matter and the process can be long and arduous. Once established, it also must be maintained. Strict outdoor lighting policies are required to minimize light pollution; special star-gazing programs must be promoted and hosted for guests; and the local community must be involved in maintaining the standards.
Nighttime light pollution is common east of the Mississippi River, and natural nighttime darkness is disappearing, making stargazing more and more difficult. An IDA International Dark Sky Park designation recognizes those areas and organizations actively working to maintain spaces where the public can easily see the stars. The park must possess 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.
“What is quite clear – at least in Virginia – is there is no better American East Coast destination to visit when stargazing is on the itinerary,” Virginia tourism officials add.
More information on Virginia can be found at www.Virginia.org.