One of Georgia’s most remote state parks has been designated among the best spots in the world for star gazing. The International Dark Sky Association recently named Stephen C. Foster State Park in the Okefenokee Swamp as a gold-tier “International Dark Sky Park” – the first in Georgia. A December 10 celebration will include a short ceremony followed by a free astronomy program where sky enthusiasts can observe the moon’s craters, Venus, Mars and the North Star.
he 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.
“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. “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” location 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. “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.” Ellis is now assistant manager of Reed Bingham State Park in Adel and is looking forward to the ceremony.
Stephen C. Foster State Park is the western entrance to one of the largest wetlands in the nation. 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. To learn more about the designation, visit www.darksky.org/idsp/parks/stephen-c-foster-state-park/.
About the International Dark Sky Association
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. It established the International Dark Sky Places conservation program in 2001 to recognize excellent stewardship of the night sky. Designations are based on stringent outdoor lighting standards and innovative community outreach. For more information, visit http://darksky.org/night-skyconservation/dark-sky-places.