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  • Andrew Hayes

An Adventure That Puts Stars in Your Eyes

Cherry Springs State Park is a hidden gem for residents or visitors looking for a nighttime activity in Central Pennsylvania. This spot is known for its beautiful view of the moon, distant planets, and the Milky Way galaxy. I had the opportunity to interview a few of the Board of Directors from Central Pennsylvania Observers Inc. to see why this location is a must see.


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Late-night star gazing at Cherry Springs State Park.

The history of the land at this state park is an interesting one. Cherry Springs State Park is located in North-Central Pennsylvania, which is known for its rich Native American history. For many years the Seneca Tribe, a part of the Iroquois League, thrived in Northern Pennsylvania and New York. The Iroquois League signed the Cornplanter Treaty in 1784 which allowed settlers to live on their land; however, very few moved to the area due to its terrain. It didn’t become a popular gathering spot until the late 1800s when hunters and fishers would stay in the local hotel during their outdoor trips. Cherry Springs is also known for its large contribution to the logging industry; the area is known for tall and straight timber. Since the 1990s, Cherry Springs has become an area that’s cherished by astronomers from all over the country. These exceptional viewing conditions are unlike any other; there can be up to 10,000 stars in the sky at night! If you are looking for a great nighttime activity for you and your friends or family, Cherry Springs State Park is a must visit.


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Crescent Nebula, taken by Bill Arden.

The Central Pennsylvania Observers (CPO) is a small group of amateur astronomers in Central Pennsylvania. They have monthly meetings to discuss the latest astronomy events and propose new ideas. Outside of the meetings they organize skywatches, where they share their telescopes with the public and get more people interested in astronomy. Their biggest adventure each year is the Black Forest Star Party (a public skywatch) at the end of summer, which is held at Cherry Springs State Park. It is always packed with astronomers and visitors from all over the country. They typically bring RV’s and camping gear and stay for the night. It is a great opportunity for families to get outside and enjoy the scenery. They welcome all visitors who have an interest in astronomy and encourage them to come back!


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Bill Arden at the Children’s Program at the Black Forest Star Party.

I was able to speak with Steve Taylor and Bill Arden; they are on the Board of Directors for Central Pennsylvania Observers Inc. and have had an interest in astronomy for most of their lives. Steve and Bill spoke with passion and humor throughout our discussion; they were clearly eager to share their love of astronomy. I learned a lot about their backgrounds, CPO, Cherry Springs State Park, and astronomy. I asked them about their personal lives as well as questions tourists may have if they visit the area!


Steve was introduced to astronomy when he was five. This was during the Apollo period, which was a major push by NASA that resulted in the first humans walking on the moon. When he got his first library card he looked at books in the library related to astronomy and has been following it ever since. Bill got into astronomy when he was twelve, which was around the time of the Sputnik launch. He was interested in space all throughout high school, but didn’t come back to it for years. Bill was a professor at Augsburg University in Minneapolis where he taught business classes. In 2005, Bill was asked if he could teach an astronomy class at the university, and he graciously accepted. From that point on, astronomy became a big part of Bill’s life.


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Mercury, taken by Bill Arden-2019

Both Bill and Steve enjoy going on skywatches, which is a gathering of novice astronomers sharing equipment and learning more about the stars and space. A typical skywatch is an open event for people of all ages and interests in astronomy. People set up their own telescopes and will allow you to take a look through them. Members love to bring guests with them to these events. Sometimes they have bigger events that bring in around 500 people, like the Black Forest Star Party at Cherry Springs State Park. This event usually takes place in September, and a lot of serious astronomers attend.


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Large telescope brought in for the Black Forest Star Party (2017).

The main reason Cherry Springs is so popular for stargazing is because of two factors: light pollution and sea level. The area is remote, so light from neighboring houses and towns doesn't reach the astronomy field. The park is also above sea level (on a 2,300 foot mountain) so you have an unencumbered, 360-degree view of the Milky Way galaxy. The DCNR has an excellent list of things to bring on a skywatch here, so check that out before planning your trip! In addition, it is the only Certified IDA International Dark Sky Park in the entire northeast!


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Helix Nebula - October 2017, photographed by Bill Arden