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The Traveler's Guide to the Galaxy at Cherry Springs State Park

You’ve never seen the sky like this before. Every generation preceding us always looked upwards in wonder at a night sky brimming with the beauty of stars and the glowing arms of the Milky Way. The widespread use of artificial light around the world now hides the sky from 80% of mankind on Earth. For the first time in human history, we cannot see the stars. 

But in the remote wilds of the 262,000 acres of the Susquehannock State Forest, one of the eastern seaboard’s best locations for stargazing rests at a half-mile elevation above sea level. Known for its unobstructed 360 degrees panorama of the sky, Cherry Springs State Park was the first Dark Sky Park in the eastern U.S. and the second location in the world to become a designated Gold Tier International Dark Sky Park. It’s ranking atop the hierarchy of stargazing havens is well-earned; the sky here is so dark that every star visible to the human eye can be seen (more than 10,000). Even more impressive, the brilliant glow of the Milky Way’s arm is so bright under optimal viewing conditions that it casts a visible shadow and provides enough light to be able to read a newspaper. 

What makes Cherry Springs State Park even more amazing is that it’s in Pennsylvania, a state that is the keystone of the East Coast metropolis of the United States. The park is situated relatively nearby some of the country’s largest cities: Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and New York, as well as smaller cities like Rochester, Buffalo, and Harrisburg. But with its 2,300-foot elevation atop a remote, forested mountain in the Alleghenies, the view is breathtaking in both daylight and at nighttime. Check out the light pollution map from the Dark Sky Association’s website to see exactly where Cherry Springs is located amongst the brightness of the East Coast.

Cherry Spring’s annual Black Forest Star Party is on September 22nd through September 24th this year. The Star Party is a public viewing event that provides an opportunity for regular people to visit with hundreds of astronomers, look through the telescopes, shop from vendors, and learn something new from qualified speakers. The guest speaker this year is world-renowned eclipse expert and retired NASA astrophysicist, Fred Espenak. Besides maintaining NASA’s official eclipse website, Espenak’s primary research involves the infrared imagery of planetary atmospheres. Register for the Black Forest Star Party this September using the online form here http://bfsp.org/register/ since no tickets will be sold at the gate.

On August 4-6, 2017, celebrate Potter County’s rich lumber history at another event the park holds called the Woodsmen Show. Some of the best lumberjacks in the country compete in events like cross-cut saw, springboard, axe throwing, and tree felling. You may have seen many of these events in the popular outdoor games shown on hit TV shows like Ax Men and American Loggers. The Woodsmen Show will also showcase artistic chainsaw carvings, exhibits, vendors, and more, as well as a wholesome home-style meal and traditional music. Admission is $7-$12, depending on age and day. Find more information on the Woodsmen Show at the event’s website

As well as its annual events, there’s more to do here. Nearby, you’ll find the 85 miles of the Susquehanna Trail providing hiking and backpacking during the day while you wait impatiently for the sky to set, your eyes to adjust, and the stars to finally bloom forth out of the sky. Consult some resources on when the new moon is and keep updated on the weather before you experience something unforgettable like this. And make the starry night even more magical with a stay at one of our Pennsylvania bed & breakfast inns.

“For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream.”  — Vincent van Gogh

Brandon Sherbo, Guest Blogger

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