Finally, I Made It to Cherry Springs State Park, In God’s Country, Potter County.

Finally, I Made It to Cherry Springs State Park, In God’s Country, Potter County.

Cherry Springs (18 of 49)
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I first heard about the dark skies at Cherry Springs State Park about 30 years ago. And almost every year since then I planned to visit.  I  never did.  Well, I finally made it this weekend. I always had an interest in astronomy  since my dad first showed me the Milky Way in our back yard when I was a child.  You can no longer see the Milky Way in my hometown in Hazle Township Luzerne County.  However, I  was fortunate to have seen the magnificence of the Milky Way in Australia, New Zealand, Ecuador and a few countries in southern Africa. After seeing a  a Facebook post about the Perseids meteor shower last week, I made a last minute decision that  it was time to see the Milky Way, and some meteors,  in Pennsylvania,  again. 

So on Friday,  I left my home in Luzerne County and took the three hour drive to Cherry Springs State Park in Potter County ,God’s Country. 

It was a beautiful drive through the  mountains of northcentral Pennsylvania. The August sun shone brightly on my drive. However, when I arrived at the park I was greeted with dark  ominous skies, flashes of lightning and the sound of thunder in the distance. I knew went I left that there was rain and thunderstorms in the forecast and that I might not see the stars on Friday night. 

I parked my Jeep in large the star gazing parking lots and decided to explore the park before the storms arrived. 

The park is set up to allow access to large numbers of people who come to see the tens of thousands of stars visible in the dark skies of the park. I learned that an old airport was  converted into additional space to allow visitors to enjoy the night skies. 

I walked into the fields and read some of the many exhibits that were set up explaining and providing information about the star gazing activities at the park. I learned Cherry Springs was the first “Dark Sky” park in Pennsylvania and that it was also named an “International Dark Sky Park”  by the International Dark Sky Association. It is one of the 10 best places to observe the night sky on the planet! 

As I strolled through the fields under the threatening skies I saw there were rows of seats and a screen set up  for informative shows on the night sky and astronomy. 

It looks like it will be a great experience to watch the night skies here. Well, I got a little hopeful, the skies started to clear and the sun appeared. The sounds of thunder still echoed in the distance so I walked around and learned a little history of the Cherry Springs Park and the area.  One of the first inns  in the area, a log cabin,  was built here in 1818 on a  trail that later became a turnpike in 1834.  A replica of the  inn was constructed near the entrance to the park. 

There was not much more to see in the star observation  fields so I walked across Highway 44 and into the astronomy camping area. Here I learned camping is on a first come first serve basis and there were only a few  campsites taken around 3 p.m. on a Friday.  It is only $15 a night and the gates are locked at night to prevent folks from disturbing the star gazing campers. I hope to return and  do this someday, and hopefully, this time,  before  another 30 years pass.

There were telescopes in the camping area.  And there was a pavilion built by the Civilian Conservation Corp in 1939.

I explored the pavilion and reflected on the many folks who camped here over the year. I thought about them enjoying a roaring fire  sitting in one of the two rooms with a fireplace in the pavilion. 

I saw a ranger and asked about hiking trails and learned that there weren’t many in this small park. The park is designed mainly to enjoy the night sky. I was told their are hundreds of trails in the surrounding state forests but only one in Cherry Springs State Park. Although the sun was now shining, there  were storm clouds on the horizon  so I decided to stay close to my Jeep and hike the only one mile trail around the campground. 

The trail  led to some fields behind the campground. Here I found large patches of milkweed and other wildflowers. 

The milkweed have already bloomed and formed  seed pods,

but I saw many other wild flowers here including St. John’s wort.

 knapweed flowers, which seem to be everywhere this time of year, 

creeping spearwort buttercups and

a few pretty purplestem asters.

And where there are flowers, there are bees, butterflies and other insects.  I saw a few of these fritillary butterflies on the knapweed flowers. I think it is a great spangled fritillary but I am not certain. 

I am also unsure about this butterfly visiting some Queen Ann lace flowers. I know it is either a monarch or the very similar viceroy butterfly. 

The sun was still shining and  large cumulus clouds were forming in the opposite direction of the thunderstorms in the distance.S0 I followed the trail into the surrounding woodlands. It was a nice walk under some old second growth forest. 

I found some mushrooms growing in the shade of the large old trees. I am not sure of the species. 

The trail  continued over a small stream,

but soon left the woodlands and followed a wider access road back to the park. Here I saw a few black-capped chickadees , 

 a juvenile blue bird

some chipping sparrows 

and I found more wildflowers growing along the road. They included   black-eyed susans,

musk mallows and 

bull thistles. 

And, of course there were more insects. Bees and

these fritillary butterflies were  enjoying the bull thistle flowers. 

I believe this is some sort of skipper butterfly visiting this bird’s foot trefoil flower.

The sound of thunder grew closer and the skies darkened again. 

I made my way back to the star gazing fields and parking lots. 

I continued walking though the fields,

until  the rain started to fall.

I left the park around 4 p.m. and drove in a thunderstorm  to my hotel, the Mill Stream Inn ,in Coudersport.  The skies cleared again and I hoping maybe I could see the stars at Cherry Springs State Park later that evening. But first I drove into the quaint little town of Coudersport and had a delicious dinner of fried walleye fish at the A & W West End Grill. Returning to my hotel, I was disappointed when heavy clouds, rain and thunderstorms moved in again. There would be no viewing of the Milky Way that evening.  I awoke a few times during the night to check the weather but the clouds and rains continued. However, the forecast called for clear skies on Saturday, I was hoping the forecast would be right.  Here is a link to some more photographs I took on my visit to the park. Cherry Springs State park August 13 2021. 

“The lure of the open road is now gripping the nation, and few States can offer a better spot for a real vacation than Pennsylvania. Within the borders of the State are found rugged mountains, picturesque lakes, trout-laden streams, and rich farmlands.”  -R.W. Shelton, 


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