See the stars: Natural Bridge gets ‘International Dark Sky status’

Virginia State Parks helping dark skies shine brightly

Dark sky over Mt. Bleak House at Sky Meadows State Park (Courtesy: Virginia Dept. of Conservation and Recreation)

RICHMOND, Va. – The International Dark Sky Association (IDA) has awarded International Dark Sky Park status to Natural Bridge State Park in Rockbridge County and Sky Meadows State Park in Fauquier County.

“With the designation of Natural Bridge and Sky Meadows, Virginia State Parks has a total of four dark sky parks and Virginia has a total of five, more than any other state east of the Mississippi,” said Virginia State Parks Director Dr. Melissa Baker. “The designation represents years of hard work and dedication by the staff and volunteers at both parks. Our commitment to providing visitors with unique opportunities to enjoy and learn about our natural resources is at the forefront of this project.”

“Sky Meadows and Natural Bridge state parks now join a global community of IDA Dark Sky Places where visitors can experience a natural night beneath a starry sky,” said Laura Greenleaf, IDA volunteer representative for Virginia. “On behalf of Virginia’s IDA membership, I commend DCR and the leaders at both parks for their commitment to our natural resources and to our human heritage. I hope that all of Virginia’s Dark Sky Parks will inspire their surrounding communities to make responsible, quality outdoor lighting a priority so that Virginia can halt and reverse the decades’ long trend of growing light pollution.”

Nighttime light pollution is common east of the Mississippi River, and natural nighttime darkness is disappearing, making stargazing more difficult. International Dark Sky designation recognizes areas and organizations working to maintain spaces where the public can see stars more easily.

Natural Bridge is the third park in the Virginia State Park system to be named an International Dark Sky Park. “There are not that many accomplishments that bring recognition of this caliber to the hard work staff put into doing their jobs,” said James Jones, park manager at Natural Bridge State Park. “Our Dark Sky designation is a continuation of the park’s effort to bring understanding and awareness to our natural resources. I cannot thank the park staff enough for the hard work they have given over the past three years.”

Sky Meadows’ process of designation as a Dark Sky Park can be traced back decades to astronomy programs started by volunteers who recognized the park’s unique resource of dark skies just outside of a growing urban environment. More recently, it is the result of over five years of staff and volunteer dedication and community support, working together to meet the light pollution mitigation and education requirements necessary for Sky Meadows to become eligible for the designation.

“Though a major milestone, this marks more a beginning than an end to our work in maintaining the dark skies that we and our visitors enjoy,” said Sky Meadows Park Manager Kevin Bowman. “It demonstrates that much of what visitors enjoy about Sky Meadows hinges on resources and factors beyond our boundaries, and is a sobering reminder that the designation’s longevity must not be taken for granted. We hope it will inspire others to consider the impact that outdoor lighting choices at home and in their communities make on the conservation and enjoyment of our valued resources.”

James River State Park was designated in 2019 and Staunton River in 2015.