Many campgrounds and RV parks offer unique settings that offer a wide variety of recreational activities. The most common include hiking, boating or swimming, but for some parks with great views of the nighttime skies, stargazing can attract not only campers but large groups of astronomers.
In northern California, Likely Place Golf & RV Resort offers an 18-hole golf course, along with 55 RV sites and 20 tent sites, but perhaps its most surprising amenity is its six custom concrete telescope pads that also come with 110-volt plugins.
“We were recognized as having some really dark skies about 10 years ago when Tony Hollis, an astronomer and photographer for National Geographic wrote an article and expounded on our attributes and how dark the sky was,” explained Dennis Tate, who has managed the park since 2003.
The park also keeps a three-acre field manicured so that campers have plenty of space to set up equipment and stare at the stars.
Not something the park’s owners had really thought about before Hollis’ visit, now stargazing has become a major attraction for the park, which host a number of stargazing events throughout the year and even highlights an “Astronomy Calendar of Celestial Events” on its website.
For the past seven years Likely Place has been the site of the annual “Stellarvue Dark Sky Star Party,” an annual event that attracts hundred of stargazers and books up within two hours of opening for reservations, according to Tate.
“We try to make it easy and fun for people to come look at the stars,” he noted to WOODALLSCM.com.
While not “Dark Sky” certified by the International Dark Sky Association, Tate says the parks elevation and efforts to mitigate light pollution have ensured that the park remains a top spot for astronomers.
“We have lighting throughout our park that is recognized as lowering light pollution,” he explained. “Located at about 4,500 feet, the park is also high enough so that you don’t get the dust, volcanic ash and humidity up in the atmosphere.”
In Arizona, Verde Ranch, an RV and cottage resort that is set to open on August 1, will be Dark Sky certified, according to Lisa Harold, COO of Contemporary Resorts and Residences, the company that is building the resort in Camp Verde, which will feature 402 RV sites and 16 cottages.
The “Dark Sky” certification process is initiated by local communities, according to Harold, noting that Camp Verde has already been designated a “Dark Sky” community and that the development process required the implementation of things that would lessen light pollution.
“We are installing lighting around the park that will minimize light pollution,” she highlighted.
Camp Verde and the surrounding areas are also engaged in creating programs that highlight stargazing and the need for less light pollution.
Highlighting the Dark Sky designation in their marketing efforts also works to help Verde Ranch attract more campers, according to Harold.
“It gives us another amenity that maybe other parks don’t have, one that makes us unique,” she noted.
In Gladwin, Mich., River Valley RV Park has become a focal point for astronomers in the state, due to a large hill that is located at the park, according to the park’s owner, Kimberly Kohn.
Located at a low point, the actual park is not the best spot for stargazing, but the hill provides enough elevation to give stargazers excellent views of the nighttime skies, she noted.
The park is the host site for the annual “Great Lakes Star Gaze,” which is now in its 17th year. Attracting dozens of stargazers, the event held in September helps to sell more sites at the park.
“All I do is check-in the individuals that will be camping with us and the event’s organizers take care of the rest,” she explained. “They set up all of the educational sessions that they host and everything else that goes on throughout the whole weekend.”
On the revenue side, Kohn said the event typically fills up half of her park, which includes 153 sites, and that she also sees some additional revenue based off how many people attend the event in total.
While the event is the main attraction for stargazers, Kohn said that throughout the year she will get people requesting to go up on the hill.
“I typically tell them to go ahead, but we don’t market it as a destination for stargazers,” she noted.