The unspoiled dark skies of Cherry Springs State Park in Pennsylvania are a real treat to stargazers who attend the Black Forest Star Party. Now, this is what our night sky is supposed to look like!
Whether you’re a visual observer or an amateur astrophotographer, it’s hard to find a place as special as Cherry Springs State Park.
Black Forest Star Party
Although I have been to Cherry Springs State Park several times, I attended my first Black Forest Star Party (BFSP) in September 2019. The Black Forest Star Party has been running since 1999 at the Cherry Springs State Park and is hosted by the Central Pennsylvania Observers.
The following video takes you along for the ride as I travel from Ontario, Canada, to the Black Forest Star Party.
The skies at Cherry Springs State Park are absolutely incredible. The Milky Way stretches across the park from end to end without any intrusion from city lights. They have a strict policy about white light, which really helps preserve your night vision throughout the night.
As I mentioned to a fellow amateur astronomer at the park, the Black Forest Star Party is like a “car show” for telescopes. People from all over the US and Canada bring their prized astronomy gear and show it off.
20″ Dobsonian telescopes were commonplace at the park, and there are often telescopes with 30″ of aperture or more. Giant refractors, heavy-duty mounts, and expensive CCD cameras as far as the eye can see.
I am always very impressed by the behavior of all the guests. It’s a little strange to be outside with almost 500 people all night without any loud music or yelling. It’s just a big group of people who have traveled many miles for the same reason, dark skies!
A look at some of the large Dobsonian telescopes on the observing field.
Where is the Star Party Held?
The location of this annual stargazing event is Cherry Springs State Park, which is one of the darkest sites in the state of Pennsylvania. It has even been designated as a Dark Sky Park by the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR).
Cherry Springs State Park is an International Dark Sky Association (IDA) Park, and one of the best places in the eastern United States for stargazing. The park sits 700 m above sea level in the Susquehannock State Forest and offers largely unobstructed views of the night sky in a 360-degree field of view.
In the light pollution map below, you can clearly see why this location is so dark. The red and white areas are the brightest in terms of light pollution, and the blue areas are the darkest. Cherry Springs State Park is a Bortle Scale Class 2 site.
The location of the Black Forest Star Party.
When is Black Forest Star Party?
The Black Forest Star Party is usually held in the early Fall at Cherry Springs State Park. To find out when the next BFSP will happen, you can visit the official website.
There, you will also find directions to the park, as well as frequently asked questions and star party rules. Each year, this event hosts a number of interesting speakers. In September 2019, I was lucky enough to be one of them!
The image of the Andromeda Galaxy below was captured under the pristine skies of this location. I set up my Canon EOS 60Da DSLR camera and William Optics RedCat 51 telescope on a Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Pro tracking mount. The photo includes 100 x 2-minute images at ISO 3200.
The Andromeda Galaxy captured at the Black Forest Star Party, 2019.
Here is a photo of the Triangulum Galaxy I captured at the Black Forest Star Party in 2019. Broadband galaxies are some of the most difficult targets to shoot effectively from home, which is why I tend to give them a lot of attention when I am at a dark sky preserve.
The Triangulum Galaxy captured at the Black Forest Star Party in 2019.
Cherry Springs Star Party
Not to be confused with the Black Forest Star Party, the Cherry Springs Star Party takes place at the same location as the BFSP, but at a different time of year. This annual stargazing event happens when the core of the Milky Way is beginning to rise high overhead.
Here is a photo I captured of the Milky Way from the Cherry Springs Star Party in 2018:
The Milky Way from the Cherry Springs Star Party.