Living in a rural area, residents are blessed with wonderful views of the night sky. Most residents of the U.S., however, are not so lucky. Urban lights intrude on the night sky (referred to as light pollution), and there are many who have never seen the stars at all.

Staunton River State Park is working to ensure that their night sky is protected for all to view and enjoy.

Staunton River State Park is in the process of applying for Dark Sky Park certification through the International Dark Sky Association (IDA). The IDA, based in Tucson, Arizona, is the only non-profit organization fighting to preserve the night.

Their mission is “to preserve and protect the nighttime environment and our heritage of dark skies through environmentally responsible outdoor lighting.”

The IDA defines Dark Sky Parks as those that are locations of exceptional nighttime beauty, dark skies education and preservation of the nighttime environment.

Staunton River State Park is working to join this exclusive list, as there are currently 20 parks worldwide certified as Dark Sky Parks. There are currently only two such parks on the East Coast.

Park Manager Adam Layman explains that there are numerous benefits to preserving the night sky.

“Just 100 years ago, everyone had a view of the Milky Way, but now most Americans can’t see it at all. Artificial light also disrupts nocturnal habits of animals, and plants and animals both depend on the light and dark cycle for natural rhythms and behaviors, which unnecessary nighttime lighting can affect. Limiting our nighttime lighting only to areas where it is needed, and only at a level that is needed, saves money on the electricity bill as well. There is also no scientific evidence that increased nighttime lighting deters crime, as extremely bright lighting emits glare that actually decreases nighttime vision, and crimes such as vandalism thrive on nighttime lighting.”

This certification also will be beneficial to the community in other ways, he continued.

“The Staunton River Star Party that we co-host with the Chapel Hill Astronomical Observational Society is growing each time it is held. We had over 150 astronomers come to Halifax County just to view our dark skies, drawing folks from up and down the east coast as well as from Canada just for this event. By earning this certification, those numbers will only increase. You can’t view the dark skies during the day, so these folks are venturing out to local restaurants, businesses and attractions during the daytime so there is a huge tourism benefit as well.”

Layman added that the final application for Dark Sky Park certification should be submitted to the IDA in mid-March. The application packet includes a Lightscape Management Plan which sets guidelines for how the park lights its facilities, a lighting inventory to ensure that outdoor lighting is dark sky friendly, sky quality measurements and letters of support from agency and community leaders.

Park staff and volunteers have been working on the application for about a year and are excited about the potential this project holds.

“If all goes well, we should know whether or not we achieved certification sometime this summer,” said Layman.