The views from our Blue Ridge Mountains are incredible during the day, but they’re just as awe inspiring at night! In much of the country, there is too much light pollution to get the full experience of sitting under a canopy of stars and watching the Milky Way shift overhead. However, in much of Western North Carolina, just a short drive will take you into open spaces and dark skies.
Luckily, there’s an annual observation that aligns with that activity quite nicely. Here are three of the best places in WNC to celebrate the upcoming Dark Sky Week.
What is International Dark Sky Week?
Dark Sky Week is an international celebration of the beauty of the night sky. The occasion began in 2003 and is celebrated each year on the week of the new moon in April. This year, that week falls from April 5–12, 2021. Most people celebrate simply by turning out their indoor and outdoor lights and gazing toward the sky.
The goals of the event are threefold:
- Temporarily reduce light pollution and raise awareness about its effects on the night sky.
- Encourage the use of better lighting systems that direct light downward instead of into the sky.
- Promote the study of astronomy.
There are many ways to celebrate International Dark Sky Week. At the core of your participation, all you have to do is work toward the goals above from the comfort of your back yard. But to take your participation to the next level, we suggest celebrating in one of these stellar locations.
Celebrate at Bare Dark Sky Observatory
Did you know that the first International Dark-Sky Association (IDA)-certified Star Park in the Southeast is just up the road from us? Located in Burnsville, the Mayland Earth to Sky Park is home to the state-of-the-art Glenn & Carol Arthur Planetarium (opening in 2021), a micro-propagation/aquaponics and hydroponics facility, visitor center, and garden trails. The centerpiece of the park, the Bare Dark Sky Observatory currently provides hands-on learning to Mayland Community College students, as well as being open to the public by reservation. Enjoy all the wonders of the universe from an altitude closer to the stars!
66 Energy Exchange Drive, Burnsville | (828) 766-1233 | mayland.edu/about-mayland/earth-to-sky-park
Celebrate at PARI
Closer to Brevard, Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute (PARI) was established as a nonprofit in 1998 to provide hands-on opportunities for a broad cross section of STEM disciplines. PARI is a protected astronomical site with more than 30 buildings, four radio telescopes, 11 optical telescopes, five weather and atmospheric monitoring stations, and various other instruments and educational features. Its forested location makes it a prime spot to view the starry sky. They host stargazing during SkyTrek Observing Sessions throughout the year at a specially built observation deck high on a ridge. PARI is the state’s second certified Dark Sky Park.
1 PARI Drive, Rosman | (828) 862-5554 | pari.edu
Celebrate on the Blue Ridge Parkway
There are plenty of places to get away from the lights of the city along the 469 miles of the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway. Most overlooks along the Parkway offer spots for parking and enough space to sit and enjoy the view. However, if you’re open to venturing away from the road, there are additional options. At night, Graveyard Fields offers one of the very best places to see the Milky Way in Western North Carolina. For your convenience, there is a parking area and restrooms at the start of the loop. From milepost 420 of the Blue Ridge Parkway, you can also find a half-mile trail to the summit of Black Balsam Knob, breaking out of the tree cover at 6,000 feet. There are several campsites at the top of the mountain, so you don’t have to hike back in the dark.
(828) 670-1924 | blueridgeparkway.org