I love camping and last weekend I found myself on a camping trip to Staunton River State Park in Virginia about 25 miles from the NC border. One of Virginia’s original state parks it was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps and opened in 1936. In 1952, with the completion of the John H. Kerr Dam and the formation of Buggs Island Lake, part of the park was flooded. With 2,400-acres, the park offers woodlands, meadows, and shoreline along the Dan and Staunton rivers. The park also has Olympic-sized and wading pools, picnic shelters, three playgrounds, tennis and volleyball courts, several boat launches and more than 17 miles of multi-use trails. Buggs Island Lake, offers freshwater fishing and boating, along with water skiing and many other aquatic activities. Most of my time was spent in the campground or out on the trails.
In the campground, it was very dark at night. The only light provided was a dim light outside of the bathhouse. When you looked around, there were not many lights at all. And there is a unique reason for this. The park is the first state park in Virginia to be designated an International Dark Sky Park and is ideal for stargazing. The park management became aware of the appeal of the site’s naturally dark nighttime character and began welcoming visitors to take advantage of viewing its dark night skies. In addition to park staff offering associated interpretive programs and rents telescopes, they also host the Staunton River Star Party.
The Star Party was taking place while I was there and on Saturday night they invited the community to join them and look through their telescopes. What does it mean to attend a Star Party? Phones, flashlights, and headlights had to be covered with a red film to limit light pollution. We walked to the viewing field from the campground. I was glad I had seen the area in the daylight because even using a red light made seeing where I was going a bit of a challenge.
Once inside the observation area, The hosts were very friendly and provided educational information about what we were viewing and what was needed to get started in this hobby.
When your eyes adjust to being outside in an area where there is very limited light pollution, you can see so many more stars. It was inspiring to look at the stars. We just missed seeing Saturn when we arrived. The next Staunton River Star Party is March 14-18, 2018.
In addition to hiking and stargazing, there was time spent in the hammock, by the campfire, telling stories and enjoying good food and time with friends! Not a bad way to send a weekend.
For more information on Staunton River State Park visit http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/state-parks/staunton-river#general_information
and for the Staunton River Star Party visit http://www.chaosastro.com/starparty/