Milky Way

I visited Cherry Springs State Park (Coudersport, PA) once again, this time staying the full night in the campground. The first time I visited was October 2018 with my sisters Susan Ward and Sharon Tracy. We stopped, on a whim, after a day trip to Niagara Falls, Canada side. It was quite a haul, driving to Canada and back, and including a side trip atop a mountain, and we arrived home around 2 a.m., but what an amazing sightseeing trip it was.

Susan was so impressed she wanted to share the night sky, and its impressive vista of the Milky Way, with her daughter, Jennifer, and granddaughter, Mikayla. So the three flew into Washington, D.C., from their Tampa Bay home, and drove up to Pennsylvania.

Did I mention that Sue loves to drive? She must, the miles she puts on her car.

She’d been planning for this trip for months, drop shipping air mattresses and tents to my house. I have some camping gear, so we packed it all into the small rental car and headed north to Cherry Springs. Should have added more blankets, despite the crowded conditions of the car. Nothing quite like trying to sleep in temperatures that drop to the mid-40s in the middle of the night. Bottom line: You don’t sleep. You curl in a ball and close your eyes and pray that morning comes soon. When it does, you’ve finally fallen asleep because of exhaustion, but the rising sun and the dawn chorus won’t let you stay that way.

Panoramic view of the park, left to right: astronomy bulletin board, CCC-built picnic pavilion, pumphouse, Astronomy Field, sky shed and three astronomy observation domes, information display, modern latrines, amphitheater, and CCC-built replica of the Cherry Springs Tavern (log cabin across Pennsylvania Route 44)

Photograph by Ruhrfisch: Photographed, stitched and cropped it myself,
originally 13 horizontal photos, about 340 degrees.
This panoramic image was created with Autostitch
(stitched images may differ from reality)., CC BY-SA 3.0,

The Darkest Sky East of the Mississippi

According to Wikipedia, “Cherry Springs State Park is an 82-acre Pennsylvania state park in Potter County, Pennsylvania, United States. The park was created from land within the Susquehannock State Forest, and is on Pennsylvania Route 44 in West Branch Township. Cherry Springs, named for a large stand of Black Cherry trees in the park, is atop the dissected Allegheny Plateau at an elevation of 2,300 feet (701 m). It is popular with astronomers and stargazers for having “some of the darkest night skies on the east coast” of the United States, and was chosen by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) and its Bureau of Parks as one of “25 Must-See Pennsylvania State Parks”.

“The earliest recorded inhabitants of the area were the Susquehannocks, followed by the Seneca nation, who hunted there. The first settlement within the park was a log tavern built in 1818 along a trail; the trail became a turnpike by 1834 and a hotel replaced the tavern in 1874, then burned in 1897. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries the old-growth forests were clearcut; the state forest was established in 1901 and contains second growth woodlands. “Cherry Springs Scenic Drive” was established in 1922, and the Civilian Conservation Corps built much of Cherry Springs State Park during the Great Depression, including a picnic pavilion listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). An annual “Woodsmen’s Show” has been held in the park each August since 1952.”

“Cherry Springs State Park was named Pennsylvania’s first dark sky park by the DCNR in 2000. The adjoining Cherry Springs Airport, built in 1935, was closed and its land was added to the park in 2006, to expand its stargazing area. On June 11, 2007, the International Dark-Sky Association named it the second “International Dark Sky Park”; under optimum conditions the Milky Way casts a discernible shadow. Cherry Springs has received national press coverage and hosts two star parties a year, which attract hundreds of astronomers. There are regular stargazing and educational programs for the public at the park, and the Woodsmen’s Show attracts thousands each summer. Cherry Springs also offers rustic camping, picnic facilities, and trails for mountain biking, hiking, and snowmobiling. The surrounding state forest and park are home to a variety of flora and fauna.”

“Cherry Springs began attracting stargazers in the early 1990s. In 1999 the “Dark Sky Fund” was established and continues “to enhance the stargazing and astronomy experience” by funding improvements at the park. In 2000 Cherry Springs was officially named a “Dark Sky Park” by the DCNR, and that same year it became part of the Hills Creek State Park complex, an administrative grouping of eight state parks in Potter and Tioga counties. The headquarters for Cherry Springs are at nearby Lyman Run State Park. The National Public Observatory picked it “as the pilot for the Stars-n-Parks program” in April 2001. The DCNR acquired the Cherry Springs Airport in 2006 “to expand the overall Dark Sky observation area and allow for increased programming opportunities” at the park, and closed it in 2007. On June 11, 2008, the International Dark-Sky Association named Cherry Springs State Park the second “International Dark Sky Park”. (The first was Natural Bridges National Monument in Utah.)”