Georgia state park named one of world’s top stargazing spots

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Georgia state park named one of world’s top stargazing spots

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CONTRIBUTED BY GEORGIA STATE PARKS

Stephen C. Foster State Park, one of Georgia’s most remote state parks located in the Okefenokee Swamp, has been named one of the best spots in the world for star gazing.

The International Dark Sky Association has named Stephen C. Foster State Park as a gold-tier “International Dark Sky Park” – the first in Georgia, according to Georgia State Parks.

The prestigious designation means that Stephen C. Foster State Park’s skies have very little light pollution and that visitors enjoy exceptional views of the moon, stars, planets and comets. Other notable Dark Sky destinations in the U.S. include Big Bend and Death Valley national parks.

A Dec. 10 celebration will include a short ceremony at 5 p.m. followed by a free astronomy program where sky enthusiasts can observe the moon’s craters, Venus, Mars and the North Star.

“We are thrilled to have achieved this goal of making Stephen C. Foster State Park a world-class destination for astronomy enthusiasts,” said Georgia State Parks Director Becky Kelley said in a press release. “Not only will visitors enjoy one of the most spectacular wetlands in the nation, they will also enjoy some of the most pristine night skies.”

Park staff spent several months preparing to apply for the designation, removing 13 streetlights and switching many bulbs to light-emitting diodes (LED). They worked with the local power company to install state-of-the-art lighting which casts downward rather than outward. Staff even retrofitted outdoor lighting on park cabins to be motion-activated. Their efforts have paid off with the park being among the few “Dark Sky” locations in the southeastern United States.

“We are proud to have earned this prestigious designation and bring attention to the issue of light pollution,” said Michael Ellis who spearheaded the project while working at the park in a release. “All life – plants, wildlife and even people – exist on the circadian rhythm. When we introduce artificial lights, that rhythm is interrupted. It’s what causes many people to not sleep well or sea turtles to navigate toward city lights rather than the ocean.”

About Stephen C. Foster State Park: located in the western entrance to one of the largest wetlands in the nation and best known for resident alligators, the park also offers astronomy programs throughout the year with its 8-inch and 10-inch Orion SkyQuest Dobsonian telescopes. Because the park is 18 miles from the closest town of Fargo, Ga., most visitors stay overnight in the park’s cabins or campground. To learn more about the park and its programs, visit www.GeorgiaStateParks.org/stephencfoster or call 912-637-5274. For overnight reservations, call 1-800-864-7275.

About the celebration:

Astronomy Program and International Dark Sky Celebration

Fargo, Ga.

5 p.m. Dec. 10

Celebrate the park’s designation as Georgia’s only international dark sky site by the International Dark Sky Association with stargazing in the Okefenokee Swamp. The moon will be in the waxing gibbous phase, allowing us to see craters in detail. We’ll also look at Venus, Mars, the North Star and Vega. Free. $5 parking

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