In early times, people would gather around the campfire and listen to stories about stars and gods. The legend of the Kiowa Indigenous people of the Great Plains tells the story of the Seven Sisters. These sisters were playing among the rocks when a bear stumbled upon them and started chasing them. They cried out to the rock to save them. Hearing their plight, the great spirit lifted the ground, and placed the girls in the sky. Thus the Seven Sisters became what we know today as the Pleiades.

Stories like these faded away as the night sky became buried under a veil of electric smog emerging from blazing cities and smoking factories. Slowly, the constellations themselves began to disappear from the night sky. Many who live in and around cities never see a Big Dipper nor catch a glimpse of the Milky Way due to light pollution, which creates a sky glow that can be seen from 100 miles away and has recently been increasing in intensity and extent.

However, sustainable development projects such as the integration of urban forests in cities are becoming more popular. With growing interest in preserving wilderness and safeguarding local ecosystems, the number of dark sky preserves is also growing, aided by various conservation efforts. As of January 2022, there are 195 certified International Dark Sky places in the world. In the US, 12 of 63 national parks are IDA-certified. Astrotourism is on the rise. And the tale of the Seven Sisters is starting to echo into the night yet again.

Georgia’s Gem – Stephen C. Foster State Park

Georgia is home to beautiful mountains and is well-known for its scenic beauty. The North Georgia Mountains are part of Chattahoochee National Forest and offer breathtaking views of the night sky. However, the light pollution from Atlanta and nearby cities always obscures the Milky Way and other distinct parts of the night sky when you look south.

The night sky becomes darker and stars appear brighter as you move farther away from light pollution. Around 300 miles south of Atlanta lies Stephen C. Foster State Park in Okefenokee Swamp – the largest blackwater swamp in North America where light pollution is close to zero. Light pollution is quantified using a system known as the Bortle Scale – a 9-point scale used to estimate sky brightness.Night skies at this park are rated as Bortle Class 2 – a perfect place for a world-class stargazing experience in the eastern United States.

The International Dark Sky Places program was started in 2001 to encourage communities, parks and protected areas around the world to preserve and protect dark sites through responsible outdoor lighting and public outreach. Stephen C. Foster State Park achieved its IDA designation in 2016 with gold-tier ranking, and it’s safe to say that the park is a hidden gem for astrotourists.


The park’s Dark Sky protection program not only preserves the night sky but also contributes to healthy ecosystems in the surrounding Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. Removal of artificial lighting minimizes the impact on nocturnal wildlife in the area, thereby restoring a natural habitat for birds, reptiles and insects. The park comes alive after sundown. Due to its remote location and lack of light pollution, many visitors are drawn to this park for unobstructed views of the Milky Way. 

The Park also offers various astronomy programs throughout the year for a fee. Visitors can make use of park-owned telescopes to view distant objects such as planets, nebulae and star clusters. 

The campground is covered in trees, but there is an area past the canoe launch which remains wide open for photographers and astronomers to set up their gear for deep sky imaging. When the conditions are perfect, nothing beats the experience of laying under the stars and seeing nothing but cosmos. It evokes a sense of wonder that is truly magical in appearance and abounding with beauty.

Dark Sky Tourism

Numerous studies have shown that reducing artificial light has tremendous benefits to the environment and human health. Accessibility to the dark sky sites in the region also promotes tourism which is beneficial for the local economy. A 2019 study on the economic impact on the Colorado Plateau has shown that dark sky tourism generates $2.4bn in revenue and 10,000 additional jobs in the region. 

Scenic vistas are an important public amenity. These designated sites can offer travelers scenic views that motivate people to visit places at night, similar to how wildlife attracts people to visit national parks. Spreading awareness of Dark Sky places not only helps to boost tourism but has a ripple effect in promoting Dark Sky locations.

Dozens of studies have found that increasing public lighting doesn’t necessarily help prevent crime or road collisions. According to the study, when risks are carefully considered, local authorities can safely reduce street lighting saving both costs and energy. From a study conducted by the National Institute of Justice in 1997, there appears to be no correlation between increased street lighting and reduced crime. Therefore, programs such as “One Atlanta – Light up the Night” are counterproductive. More dark sky parks can be created in North Georgia near Chattahoochee – Oconee National Forests and Nantahala National Forest if we reduce the lights from major cities in the state.

Night sky as seen from Brasstown Bald Observatory in Hiawassee, North Georgia. Bortle Class 4 rating.

In essence, promoting more dark sky parks and reducing artificial lights will not only offer spectacular views of the night sky but will also help boost the local economy. State government can take a number of initiatives:

    • New Dark Sky ordinance to limit light pollution in parks, facilities and streetlights within the city such as:
    • Retrofitting existing streetlights to dark-sky compliant LED lights. Color temperature no more than 3000 Kelvin. 
    • Implementing controlled lighting using motion sensors, dimmers and timers.
    • Adopting new lighting code that requires lights to face down by using dark sky-friendly fixtures and limiting what angle they can cast light.
    • Limit light pollution by using dark sky-friendly fixtures and controlled outdoor lighting. 
    • Promote Dark Sky tourism in the region by establishing more dark sky preserves. 
    • Implement policies to include the impact of light pollution during city planning. 

Established Dark Sky Parks can offer dedicated astronomy events and expert-run stargazing programs to increase visitor counts and provide a safe haven for stargazing activities. This will help improve our knowledge of the cosmic world which we otherwise risk losing just like our ancient cosmic stories. 

Like how the story of Seven Sisters played out in the night sky for the Kiowa Indians, different cultures around the world have their own interpretations of these celestial objects. They found patterns in the sky and created stories about planets and comets which have been passed down from one generation to the next. They used this knowledge to tell time, predict weather, and navigate; it became part of their cultural traditions. But we no longer see those stars, and with that we are also losing that innate knowledge, its potential for inspiration and evoking wonder.

Preserving dark skies means rebuilding our connection to the night skies and to nature in a more primeval wild way. Most importantly, it means ensuring that the beauty of the night sky is preserved for generations to come. In this digital age where everyone is emotionally and physically entangled with mobile screens, we need only look up for the biggest screen filled with stars and galaxies. A cosmic screen with infinite scrolls and endless reels.