Designated Night Sky Viewing Areas

Governor Dodge State Park was established in 1955 and is the fourth largest state park in Wisconsin.  It offers several excellent locations for astronomical observation, most notably the large open grassy area just east of the Twin Valley Lake picnic area, and the paved parking lot for the backpack campsites.  The latter location is the furthest away from the urban skyglow of Dodgeville that offers a good view of nearly the entire night sky.

State park regulations require everyone to leave the park by 11:00 p.m., with some exceptions made for overnight campers, fishing, and public programs in progress (such as public star parties).  Since most stargazing can only be done after 11:00 p.m. (especially during the warm months of the year), this rule greatly diminishes access to our state parks for astronomical activities.  I would like to see one designated area of Governor Dodge State Park—the Twin Valley Lake picnic area site—open all night long for astronomical activities.  So, we would add an additional exception to the 11:00 p.m. curfew:

7. Registered stargazers may at the designated observing site during closed hours.

A “registered” stargazer would be anyone who has a current annual state park pass and has registered with the park as an amateur astronomer / stargazer.  Whenever possible, those planning to visit the designated observing site after hours should notify park staff that day before the park office closes, but this should not be required as sometimes the sky unexpectedly clears or a northern lights display commences after hours that cannot be anticipated beforehand.

Here’s another idea.  The Wisconsin DNR could issue an extra-fee annual astronomy sticker which would allow registrants 24-7 access to designated astronomy areas in participating state parks.  This is an attractive idea because it would be another revenue source for our cash-strapped state park system.  Administration and site maintenance costs would be minimal.

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