International Dark Sky Park
4800 Watoga Park Rd
Marlinton, WV 24954
Kayla Bowyer, Program Coordinator, Watoga State Park
Tel.: +1 304-799-4087
Watoga State Park, Calvin Price State Forest, and Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park are all State Parks managed by the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, located within Pocahontas County, West Virginia. The combined 19,869 public acres are committed to protecting these natural and historic areas from light pollution. This area in West Virginia is heavily forested, with small communities, farms, and a few towns with an additional buffer of the undeveloped Monongahela National Forest and designated
Wilderness practically surrounding Watoga. As such, the night sky viewing in Watoga has been a draw for many years for amateur and professional astronomers and photographers.
While managed by the same agency, each of the three parks has its distinct characteristics. The name Watoga comes from the Cherokee word for “starry waters.” Watoga State Park is filled with many recreational activities, such as boating, fishing, hiking, and swimming. A multi-purpose building, museum, and observation tower are just a few of the park’s attractions. Watoga State Park offers ample opportunities for public observation of the night sky. Cabin guests and campers lodging in the park will be able to visit the designated night sky viewpoints any time. Calvin Price State Forest is the most underdeveloped park, allowing some managed timber activities, harboring mixed hardwoods and pine, and has very few open clearings. Over two-thirds of Calvin Price is only accessible by hiking in, and the park contains no infrastructure. Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park was dedicated in 1928 as West Virginia’s first state park. It is part of the Civil War Discovery Trail, which links more than 300 historical sites in 16 states.
In the summer of 2020, the West Virginia DNR confirmed a population of Synchronous Fireflies within Watoga State Park boundaries. They are the only species in America whose individuals can synchronize their flashing light patterns. Their light patterns are part of their mating display. Experts in the field state that artificial light pollution has been a contributing factor in the dwindling populations of fireflies. Watoga joins an exclusive list of four locations in the U.S. that allow the viewing of the show-stopping performance of these unique specimens in public areas. The designation of an International Dark Sky Park will provide additional protection and awareness for this species.