West Virginia becoming a premier East Coast sky-watching destination

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West Virginia becoming a premier East Coast sky-watching destination
Stargazers park along the remote Highland Scenic Highway in Pocahontas County. (Photo courtesy Jesse Thornton.)

MOUNT ZION, W.Va. — West Virginia is becoming a premier destination for East Coast sky watchers, thanks to its low light pollution and proximity to major U.S. cities.

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The opportunity to live far from city lights but within a drive of a few hours of large metro areas is also attracting new residents.

Some of the darkest skies in the eastern U.S. open over West Virginia. (Image: LightPollutionMap.info)

Night in some parts of West Virginia is so star-spangled that it may seem pre-industrial, says astronomer David Buhrman, who tours the region with telescopes, leading educational programs and advocating for the value of starlight.

"If you want to know what the night looked like in the good old days, come to West Virginia, where the sky can grow brilliant with stars," Buhrman says.

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"It's something most Americans have only read about in books."

No other region south of the Adirondacks in New York is so free of artificial light, Buhrman said, and three of the very darkest reaches in the east are located within a drive of an hour or two of his observation area in the Allegheny Mountains of eastern West Virginia.

David Sibray, the publisher of West Virginia Explorer Magazine and a real estate agent who specializes in , says dark skies have natural appeal for expatriates of urban America.

"Many customers who buy farms and retreats here have been living in cities like D.C. and New York City and have a real interest in getting back to the basics," Sibray says.

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"They're looking for a simpler existence, and part of that is walking into the backyard and looking up at the stars."

In addition to their ability to inspire awe, the dark skies above West Virginia may provide health and quality-of-life benefits, such as stabilizing .

Astronomer Burhman suggests that communities that value night-time darkness might encourage developers to employ modern, efficient lighting design.

"Simply putting reflective shields above lights will dramatically improve their efficiency, saving electricity and money while helping to preserve the glorious night sky.”

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Buhrman operates an observation area, a "dark site" in northern Greenbrier County, a drive of about 35 minutes north of Lewisburg.  Readers can learn more about Buhrman and West Virginia Sky Tours and its programming at WVSkyTours.com.

A guide to best practices for maintaining dark skies is available through the International Dark-Sky Association at .

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