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