Watoga State Park Gets Dark Sky Status

The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) has awarded Watoga State Park in West Virginia with the official Dark Sky Park status.  The adjacent Calvin Price State Forest and nearby Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park also jointly received Dark Sky Park designations as part of Watoga’s application due to their close proximity.  All managed by the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources. 

Watoga State Park will be the center of Dark Sky programming and activities for all three areas. Watoga, Cal Price, and Droop Mountain Battlefield encompass 19,869 acres of public land in Pocahontas County and are receiving the first official International Dark Sky Place designations in the state of West Virginia.

“We welcome Watoga State Park, Calvin Price State Forest, and Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park with open arms, as 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,” proclaimed Ruskin Hartley, IDA’s Executive Director.

In order to earn this international honor, the Watoga State Park Foundation’s (WSPF) Board approved the pursuit of IDA’s certification in 2018.  Board members Mary Dawson and Louanne Fatora obtained grant funding to cover the costs of light fixture replacement throughout the entire park.  They then engaged volunteer astronomers to take measurements of the quality of their night skies over the course of a full year, held several educational dark sky events, and engaged in a collaborative effort with community partners. 

“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,” stated John Goodwin, President, Watoga State Park Foundation. “Due to the diligence of two WSPF board members, our many sensitive animal species will live and thrive in their accustomed darkness just as their ancestors did, free from artificial light pollution.  Watoga State Park now offers many new educational programs for its guests.  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.” 

Watoga State Park Foundation and Park staff would like to thank the many individuals and organizations who supported the application for the Dark Sky Park designation.

What It Took to Get There

       A Dark-Sky designation does not just happen.  It comes at the end of a long process, one that involves lots of data gathering, connecting with supporters, changes to lighting so that the sky remains dark, raising money, etc. etc. etc.

       In the August issue of The Highlands Voice, Louanne Fatora described some of what she, Mary Dawson, the Watoga State Park Foundation, and their supporters did to prepare the application for Dark-Sky designation.

       Now it is possible to see not just the final result—the Dark-Sky designation for Watoga—but some of the work they did there. 

It was a lot.  The application has information about Watoga State Park, Calvin Price State Forest, and Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park.  There are maps, including one showing light pollution.  Here are descriptions of the educational outreach Watoga has done and plans to do.  There are measurements of light as well as pictures of Watoga, Droop Mountain, and Calvin Price; the pictures alone make looking at the application more than worth it.  There are pictures of the light fixtures that are used to minimize light pollution.  There are letters of support, including one from the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy.  There is information about the population of synchronous fireflies that live at Watoga.  

You can see the entire application on the website of the International Dark-Skies Association, https://darksky.app.box.com/s/vbcjobrr9s645cxhnj4o06eixrz4164i.

Who Is the International Dark-Sky Association?

The International Dark-Sky Association established the International Dark Sky Places (IDSP) conservation program 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. Since the program began, 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.  

The International Dark-Sky Association, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in Tucson, Arizona, advocates for the protection of the nighttime environment and dark night skies by educating policymakers and the public about night sky conservation and promoting environmentally responsible outdoor lighting. More information about IDA and its mission may be found at https://www.darksky.org.