James River State Park Named Top Stargazing Spot

James River State Park has earned a distinct worldwide honor in the world of stargazing. It has been named an International Dark Sky Park, which means it has a strict outdoor lighting policy to allow the public to see stars more easily.

The state park, which lies south of Charlottesville, where the James River winds northwest across the state, is only the second state park in Virginia with the title. It’s also the 44th Dark Sky Park in the U.S., and only the 64th park in the world.

So how did a state park deep in Virginia get the attention of the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA)? Lora Callahan, a Girl Scout from Lynchburg, took on the project for her Gold Award. The high school senior and her mother, Valerie, encouraged park managers to switch out its lighting and helped spread the word about the stargazing program.

“Lora and Val Callahan are just as responsible as park staff for us receiving the designation,” said James River State Park Manager Andrew Philpot. “Working with park staff, Lora helped change light bulbs, helped make special light fixtures and made posters to promote the dark sky program to our visitors. Lora and Val both worked tirelessly on the application, culminating two years of hard work.”

Nighttime light pollution comes with the territory on the densely-populated East Coast, and stargazing is getting more difficult as development continues. James River State Park invested significant funds to preserve its night sky:

“With materials, new fixtures and labor, we have probably invested around $3,000 over the past couple of years,” says Philpot. “Our exterior lighting is nearly 99 percent IDA compliant.”

James River State Park in Gladstone offers river access, trails, canoe, kayak and river tube rentals. It also has campgrounds and cabins for staying overnight (and stargazing).

Lora and Val Callahan will take part in the official Dark Sky Park designation ceremony on April 5 at 7 p.m. The park will host special presentations, offer snacks, and the Richmond Astronomical Society and Crewe Astronomy Club will offer up their telescopes for people to look at the stars.

To learn more about the IDA Dark Sky Places program, and what it takes to earn the designation, click here.

-Meg Walburn Viviano