ULYSSES — A “dark sky training” was held late last month for local businesses to learn how to take advantage of the tourism that Potter and Tioga counties generate by the dark skies at Cherry Springs State Park.
Last year, 76,000 people visited Cherry Springs State Park to stargaze in one of the darkest places in the country, Terri Dennison, executive director of PA Route 6 Alliance, said. Though the park is located in Potter County, the majority of visitors are coming from outside of the area.
A large amount of people come to visit here from Asia and India, Dennison said.
“The younger people in India have more time, they have more money than they’ve ever had and they’re coming over to America,” Dennison said. “They want to see unique things and Cherry Springs is one of those things they want to see.”
To get people to Cherry Springs from Galeton, they recommend funneling traffic up West Branch Road. There is a video on YouTube that gives directions on how to get there, landmarks to look for and what to pack your car with, titled “Galeton PA, The Gateway to the Dark Skies of Cherry Springs.”
Once they’re at the park, it should be stressed that those who are there to stargaze for a few hours should go to the night sky public viewing area, on the other side of the earthen mound. There are educational programs available, but online registration is required. Serious astronomers with equipment can stay overnight at the overnight astronomy observation field, across the street, for $15/night.
To avoid light pollution, red cellophane and rubber bands are available at the park to wrap around flashlights and cell phones in the public viewing area. No lights are permitted in the overnight astronomy observation field.
Stargazers should arrive before dark.
Before visitors head to Cherry Springs State Park, Scott Morgan, assistant park manager, said it’s important they check the moon phase, weather and cloud cover forecast, pack sweatshirts and blankets, red lights and plan in advance.
The best times to come are when there is a new moon or a third quarter moon. A full moon has too much light and makes it harder to stargaze, Morgan said.
Visitors will want to make sure it won’t be raining, but also that the cloud cover forecast shows a clear night ahead.
If visitors aren’t interested in the programs offered, Morgan suggests they come mid-week, as it will be less busy. Otherwise, people can register online for programs 45 days in advance. Dennison said people who are planning to stay overnight will often stop in at their office in Galeton, looking for recommendations on things to do during the day.
When that happens, Jennifer Rossman suggests businesses refer visitors to the Visit Potter-Tioga website.
“That doesn’t leave you stammering about different places to stay or trying to figure out in your head if you know of any bed and breakfasts versus a cabin versus hotel or motel,” Rossman, community outreach coordinator for Visit Potter-Tioga, said. The website is one-stop shop and has all of its members listed, so visitors can browse through different options.
With this, business owners should think about changing the ways they cater to visitors.
A cafe owner in Galeton told Rossman people who were visiting Cherry Springs or Lyman Run State Parks would come in and want to charge their phones or use free Wi-Fi. The owner told her they had to realize while they came in to use their Wi-Fi, they’ll also buy a cup of coffee or breakfast, Rossman said.
Maxine Harrison, of the Cherry Springs Dark Sky Fund/Association, suggested local businesses sell tablecloths with a plastic-like backing, rain ponchos, fleece lap blankets or grab and go bags for visitors on their way to Cherry Springs.
Often times visitors aren’t prepared for chilly weather and there aren’t any places open very late near the park, nor are there food concessions.
Those interested in learning more about the dark sky training should contact the PA Route 6 Alliance at 814-435-7706 or firstname.lastname@example.org.