Take a Walk on the Dark Side

When you hear Okefenokee Swamp, do you immediately think of alligators
and school field trips with pre-made PBJs? We thought so. But, did you know that the Okefenokee Swamp is home to Stephen C. Foster State Park, the only gold-tier dark sky park in the Southeast?

What is a dark sky park you ask? Designated by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA), dark sky parks earn their name through a rigorous application process which looks for exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and a nocturnal environment that is specifically protected for its scientific, natural, educational, cultural heritage and/or public enjoyment.

Surrounded by North America’s largest black water swamp, The Stephen C. Foster dark sky park earned the designation in 2016. The park staff worked vigorously to achieve this designation and spent months carefully removing unnecessary street lights, making the swap to directional LED lighting, installing motion-activated sensors and working with the local electrical co-op to install lighting that shines downward rather than outward.

There are many ways to experience Stephen C. Foster State Park and the dark sky park. Daytrippers can enjoy canoe, kayak and motorboat rentals, or take a guided boat tour. If your goal is to take in the celestial beauty of the night sky then you will need to stay overnight. Park gates close at 10 p.m., so we recommend booking one of the park’s 64 campsites, or nine cabins. The park also offers night programs throughout the year (you can view upcoming events by visiting the park’s website).

Visitors travel from all over the southeast to catch a glimpse of the star filled sky, but there are some important factors to consider when planning your trip. One of the most important elements is the position of the moon. If the moon is too bright (a full moon) it will drown out many of the dimmer objects in the sky. Other factors to consider are clouds and the seasons (who knew the winter night sky and summer night sky were so different?).

Whether you’re an experienced astronomer, or a newbie hoping to catch a glimpse of the Milky Way, the dark sky park at Stephen C. Foster State Park has something for every star gazer.

It can take your eyes as many as 40 minutes for your eyes to adjust to darkness. Be sure to shut off all white lights when visiting the dark sky park to ensure you, and your fellow sky viewers, have an optimal experience.