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Staunton River State Park Becomes First International Dark Sky Park In Virginia

The IDA, a nonprofit organization fighting to preserve the night sky, has announced Staunton River State Park as a silver-tier Dark Sky Park, the first in Virginia.

Natural nighttime darkness is a rapidly vanishing American resource east of the Mississippi River, and few locations remain where stargazers can find dark night skies within easy reach. The preservation of dark skies in America's parks and protected lands is important to ensure the well being of wildlife and accessibility of starry skies for future generations.

Virginia's Staunton River State Park, a 2,400-acre property situated squarely in the heart of southern Virginia about 25 miles north of the North Carolina border, is one such critical nighttime habitat. As a result of local actions undertaken to secure the integrity of the park's naturally dark nights, The International Dark-Sky Association now recognizes Staunton River as the first International Dark Sky Park in Virginia.

"We are pleased to recognize the efforts at Staunton River State Park to protect Virginia's dark night skies," IDA Executive Director J. Scott Feierabend said. "The new Dark Sky Park is truly a gem that all Virginians should treasure."

In recent years, the park management became aware of the appeal of the site's naturally dark nighttime character and began welcoming visitors specifically coming to take advantage of viewing its dark night skies. The park hosted the first Staunton River Star Party in fall 2011, and the 2014 edition attracted 140 participants.

In addition to raising the park's profile as an astronomy destination through an extensive outreach campaign, the management established a quality outdoor lighting policy and brought 80 percent of the park's lighting into compliance with that policy. All involved expect the park's influence to grow as it sets a positive example of good lighting for visitors and provides regular opportunities for stargazing.

The influence of Staunton River State Park's designation is already being felt among Virginia's public lands. "Staunton River State Park is honored to be granted this designation," said Director of Virginia State Parks Craig Seaver. "Plans are currently underway to pursue implementation of applicable dark sky design principles at other Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation properties."

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October 21, 2018, 6:14 am PDT

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