Photo: Courtesy Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Stephen C. Foster State Park, Georgia, U.S., Photo by Rena Johnson.
In southern Georgia, a quiet celebration will be observed this December in the Okefenokee Swamp when the Georgia’s Stephen C. Foster State Park is named a Gold-Tier Site in the International Dark Sky Places Program.
The park is located on the western edge of the magnificent 400,000 acre-Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.
To celebrate, a bit of stargazing will be in order Dec. 10 from 5 to 7 p.m. in observation of the International Dark Sky designation. The moon will be in the waxing gibbous phase, which will allow park visitors to see craters in detail, as well as Venus, Mars, Polaris and Vega.
The dark sky honor is outstanding, because there is little dark night sky left in the eastern portion of the United States. Hard-working park staff sought the designation after evaluating the park. They removed street lights and worked with the local co-operative to install downward shining lighting and motion-activated sensors for outdoor lighting at the park’s cabins.
The ability to see the Milky Way has disappeared in much of the world in the past century as outdoor lighting in cities has increased and obscured the ability to look out and beyond to the night sky, the stars and the constellations they form.
Dark places have gained importance as places with unique natural resources. Throughout the year, the Stephen C. Foster State Park offers astronomy programs with 8- and 10-inch telescopes.
The park is equally impressive in daylight hours. Currently, water levels are so low that Park staff will be unable to give guided boat tours or rent motor boats, although kayak and canoe rentals are still available.
The refuge protects the largest dark water swamp in North America.
The Okefenokee is enormous, 700-square miles of dark water swamp wilderness, much of which is believed to have never been explored. It was first designated a National Wildlife Refuge in 1937, making it among the oldest and most well- preserved fresh water areas in the United States.
Why dark water? The water is dark, and it is also clear, naturally occurring from decaying vegetation.
The area was named by the indigenous Creek people. In the Hitchiti Creek language, okefenokee means “land of trembling earth,” although some scholars interpret “oka” and “fenoke” to mean “waters shaking.”
To learn more about the Stephen C. Foster State Park hours, accommodations and facilities, click here.
You can find a complete list of International Dark Sky Parks by clicking here.
You can visit the Okefenokee with this Georgia Department of Natural Resources 10-minute video.
For more information on the Okefenokee Wildlife Refuge, click here.