Saturday, September 24, 2016

See the Stars, Encounter the Night at James River State Park

My family and I recently went on a weekend camping trip in James River State Park, less than a two hour scenic drive west of Richmond in Buckingham County.  Sizing up my surroundings always includes a keen eye for any visible lighting and I quickly noted a couple aging dusk-to-dawn "yard lights" behind our riverside campground, at the base of the foothills.  Usually this would be cause for consternation and anxiousness, but I had a hunch those lights would not come on as darkness fell and I was right.  Why? They'd been decommissioned as part of JRSP's plans to become Virginia's second IDA-certified Dark Sky Park.

What is most delightfully notable about JRSP's lighting is the absence of it. No mast lights at all. DIY-shielded cabin lights. Full cut off wallpacks elsewhere. Motion-sensor lighting on the LEED Gold-certified Visitor's Center. And not a glaring, blue-white, high-Color Correlated Color Temperature fixture to be found. Bliss!  Our second evening we headed to the hilltop Visitor Center for an astronomy program compliments of Crewe Astronomy Club. The skies did not cooperate much, but the moon was waxing and we got the kind of close-up view of its features that will give you goosebumps plus some peekaboo appearances from planets and constellations as the clouds broke up.

We have two amazing people to thank for natural night reigning over James River State Park and opportunities to explore the celestial realm with the help of serious telescopes and their enthusiastic owners:  park volunteer coordinator Jennifer Jones and high school student and Girl Scout extraordinaire Lora Callahan.  Read more about them and their work toward Dark Sky Park certification in this recent Roanoke Times Editorial.