Looking to catch views of the Milky Way, planets and hard-to-see astronomical objects? Just take the highway to the stars–– literally.
On Thursday, Gov. Tom Wolf approved designating a section of Route 44 from U.S. Route 6 in Potter County to the Lycoming County line –– including Cherry Springs State Park –– as the “Highway to the Stars.”
The idea for the naming came from award-winning photographer Curt Weinhold, who lives in Potter County.
“It was a photo I made of the Milky Way hanging over Route 44 in November 2016 that started my thinking to designate (‘Highway to the Stars’) to Route 44,” Weinhold said. “Cherry Springs is currently the Number 1 tourist destination in Potter County and probably rivals Benezette’s elk herd.”
In fact, the state park is among the top three attractions often requested by those looking for information from the Potter-Tioga County Visitors Bureau. The attraction is about 15 minutes from Coudersport on Route 44.
“I think (the designation is) very important news for the area, given it is the only International Dark Sky Association-recognized park in Pennsylvania,” said Lori Copp, executive director of the tourism agency.
The state park is designated as a Gold Level Dark Sky Park from the International Dark Sky Association. Open year ‘round, the 82-acrepark has a campground, an astronomy field, a night sky public viewing area and an overnight astronomy observation field.
“The dark skies at Cherry Springs are a great asset to our region, offering educational opportunities to area residents and drawing thousands of visitors from across the country to its International Dark Sky Preserve,” said state Rep. Martin Causer, R-Turtlepoint, who sponsored the legislation that got Wolf’s approval.
Potter County Commissioner Paul Heimel said he has gone to many dark skies programs at the park.
“I always marvel at not only the number of people who attend these events, but also the long distances they have traveled to view these celestial wonders that are invisible to much of the rest of the civilized world,” he said. “On the most recent dark sky tour I attended, our group was joined by visitors from China, New York City and Chicago.”
Copp said her hope is that businesses in the area –– along Route 44 –– will see a boost in business and that entrepreneurs will launch businesses.
Heimel shared similar thoughts.
“Having that section of Pa. Route 44 designated as the 'Highway to the Stars' provides even greater marketing potential to regional tourist promotion agencies and helps to further establish an identity that the park managers and supporters have been developing for some time,” he said.
Copp said she is grateful that Cherry Springs has support from the state. So is Heimel.
“‘The Highway to the Stars’ suggestion advanced rapidly after Curt first introduced the concept and then solicited the support from our board of commissioners and township governments along the Route 44 corridor,” he said. “We appreciate Representative Causer's active support of our request, and the support of the state legislature.”
More information about the park is available at www.dcnr.pa.gov.