Cherry Springs State Park is a 82-acre (33 ha)[a] Pennsylvania state park in Potter County, Pennsylvania, in the United States. The park was created from land within the Susquehannock State Forest, and is on Pennsylvania Route 44 in West Branch Township. Cherry Springs, named for a large stand of Black Cherry trees in the park, is atop the dissected Allegheny Plateau at an elevation of 2,300 feet (701 m). It is popular with astronomers and stargazers for having "some of the darkest night skies on the east coast" of the United States, and was chosen by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) and its Bureau of Parks as one of "25 Must-See Pennsylvania State Parks".
The earliest recorded inhabitants of the area were the Susquehannocks, followed by the Seneca nation, who hunted there. The first settlement within the park was a log tavern built in 1818 along a trail; the trail became a turnpike by 1834 and a hotel replaced the tavern in 1874, then burned in 1897. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries the old-growth forests were clearcut; the state forest was established in 1901 and contains second growth woodlands. "Cherry Springs Scenic Drive" was established in 1922, and the Civilian Conservation Corps built much of Cherry Springs State Park during the Great Depression, including a picnic pavilion listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). An annual "Woodsmen's Show" has been held in the park each August since 1952.
Cherry Springs State Park was named Pennsylvania's first dark sky park by the DCNR in 2000. The adjoining Cherry Springs Airport, built in 1935, was closed and its land was added to the park in 2006, to expand its stargazing area. On June 11, 2007, the International Dark-Sky Association named it the second "International Dark Sky Park"; under optimum conditions the Milky Way casts a discernible shadow. Cherry Springs has received national press coverage and hosts two star parties a year, which attract hundreds of astronomers. There are regular stargazing and educational programs for the public at the park, and the Woodsmen's Show attracts thousands each summer. Cherry Springs also offers rustic camping, picnic facilities, and trails for mountain biking, hiking, and snowmobiling. The surrounding state forest and park are home to a variety of flora and fauna.
Dark Skies: Astronomers and stargazers appreciate Cherry Springs State Park for the darkness and clarity of its skies, which make it "perhaps the last best refuge of the natural night sky" in the eastern half of the United States. The sky at Cherry Springs has been classified as a 2 on the Bortle Dark-Sky Scale, meaning it has almost no light pollution. Such "truly dark, starry skies are unavailable to two-thirds of the World's population, including 99 percent of people in the continental U.S. and Western Europe". With optimum conditions, 10,000 stars are visible with the naked eye at the park, clouds appear only as black holes in the starry sky, and the Milky Way is so bright that it casts a discernible shadow. In contrast, big city residents can see a few dozen stars at best, and even those in rural areas can typically only see 2,000–3,000 stars. The Milky Way cannot be seen by most in the eastern US, even when there is no moonlight to obscure it.
Astronomical Observing: The staff at Cherry Springs State Park did not intend for it to become an attraction for amateur astronomers; the astronomers came to them instead. In 1997 or 1998 Chip Harrison, the park supervisor, noticed a man looking through a telescope at the park at about 1 AM. When Harrison asked why the man had come there, the astronomer said he had noticed an isolated black patch over north central Pennsylvania on nighttime satellite photos. Cherry Springs State Park is in that patch, one of the best locations east of the Mississippi River for stargazing.
Woodsmen's Show: The Woodsmen's Show attracts thousands of visitors to Cherry Springs State Park on the first weekend in August. It has been held every year since 1952, and has been sponsored by the Galeton Rotary Club since 1987. In 2008 events at the three-day show included tree-felling, cross-cutting, log rolling, axe-throwing, horse pulling, spring board chopping, the standing block chop, and chainsaw competitions and demonstrations. The 2008 show also featured historic recreations of life in a logging camp, musical performances, and vendors selling food, crafts, and equipment related to the lumber industry.
Camping, Picnicking, and Trails: The park has 30 camping sites which can each accommodate a tent, or a recreational vehicle (RV) up to 30 feet (9.1 m) long. The sites all have a fire ring, lantern hanger, and picnic table, and are classified as rustic because they have no running water. The camping area, which is southeast of Pennsylvania Route 44, is open from April to December and does not accept reservations. The park has two modern latrines, one in the camping area and the other at the Astronomy Field. There is also a holding tank dump station for RVs. Although the Astronomy Field is not an official camping area, overnight observers may set up tents and vehicles there in which to camp. In addition to the picnic tables and small pavilion in the camping area, the main picnic area at Cherry Springs is on the southwest side of Route 44, in and around the large historic, CCC-built pavilion. The area surrounding The Pavilion has many picnic tables situated in an old apple orchard and a stand of huge white pine and Norway spruce trees.
Cherry Springs State Park is at the southern end of a 15-mile (24 km) long, single-track mountain bike trail, which begins at Denton Hill State Park and passes through Patterson State Park. In 2005 the snowmobile trailhead at Cherry Springs was moved to the southern end of the park to avoid the Astronomy Field. The snowmobile trail is one of many trails available for cross-country skiing, backpacking, hiking, and all-terrain vehicle and horseback riding in the surrounding Susquehannock State Forest. The 85-mile (137 km) long Susquehannock Trail System passes close to the park and loops around it. South of the park the trail passes through the Hammersley Wild Area, which at 30,253 acres (12,243 ha) without roads is the second largest wild area in Pennsylvania.