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Will a landfill become PA's next stargazing mecca?

Plus, 10 years of spotted lanternflies.

Welcome to PA Local, a free weekly newsletter about the great people, amazing places, and delicious food of Pennsylvania.
Your Postmaster: Tanisha Thomas

June 7, 2024

Inside this edition: Dark skies, donut day, Tuskegee doc, Guiness records, beach revival, and lanternfly anniversary. Thanks for checking in.
A Pennsylvania-centric trivia question.
This late Pennsylvania baseballer just became the sport's all-time batting average champ after Negro League stats were added to the MLB’s.
A. Ernest E. "Pud" Gooden
B. Josh Gibson 
C. James Thomas "Cool Papa" Bell
D. Biz Mackey
(Keep scrolling for the answer, but don't miss all the good stuff in between. Like what you read? Forward this email to a friend.)
Our five favorite Pennsylvania stories of the week.
» One treat worth celebrating: Friday is National Doughnut Day, and according to Food & Wine (twice), the best donut in Pennsylvania can be found at Oram's in Beaver Falls. See what else is good in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and the midstate. Grab a free one here.
» One doc worth watching: A Tuskegee airman who relocated to Philly after retiring is featured in a new Nat Geo special about the history-making Black military unit. Pennsylvania was home to one of the highest shares of Tuskegee airmen in the nation during World War II. 
» One record worth knowing: Philly kicked off Pride Month by setting a Guinness World Record for the largest drag queen story hour, with 263 in attendance. Pennsylvania's well of world records runs deep.
» One giant pool worth reviving: Missing Ligonier Beach in Westmoreland County this summer? A revival is eyed as its 100th anniversary nears. Rick Sebak has a pre-closure walk down memory lane.
» One bug worth smashing: It's been 10 years since the spotted lanternfly was first detected in Pennsylvania. Sightings were up last year in some places and down in others. Could birds be the answer?
📬 How We Care

There are more than a million unpaid caregivers in Pennsylvania fulfilling vital and complex health care roles for loved ones, often with no training and few resources. You may be one. You may know one. Data show many of us will become one. 

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🤔 NEXT QUESTION: Are you on top of the news? Prove it with the latest edition of the Great PA News Quiz: Minimum wage to the max, Shapiro's radio hour, and Biden's border order.
The top stories published by Spotlight PA this week.
» The barrier to paid leave in Pennsylvania
» State scholarships for college — with a catch
» Why unreliable water is plaguing this PA township
» Join us: The history of Pennsylvania’s queer media
» A new type of PA mail ballot error sticks out
stars in the sky at night over a field.
Night in the Pennsylvania Wilds. (Photo By Brian Reid / Eventide Light Photography)

A former landfill in Cameron County may become Pennsylvania’s newest stargazing attraction, one that could draw 10,000 people a year to Pennsylvania’s least populated county.

Officials with the county and the Lumber Heritage Region of Pennsylvania promotional group are working together to revamp the county-owned site and weighing enhancements that include trails, parking, a wildlife viewing area, a dark sky observation field, and more. 

The 99-acre site is an hour away from the internationally renowned — and often very crowded — dark sky viewing at Cherry Springs State Park, and 30 minutes away from Route 6, “one of America's most scenic drives.”

“The goal is to develop this site to allow for public access and use of the site, and hopefully serve as a hub for some education and outreach for dark sky awareness, [light] pollution, and increasing the dark skies in the area,” Rowan Crisp, education outreach administrator for the Lumber Heritage Region group, explained. 

Because the area is a reclaimed landfill and former strip mine, Crisp said the goal is to not disturb the environment in the process of creating amenities, meaning large buildings and excavations are out while lighter options like a pavilion and elk viewing area are in. (Cameron County is home to a portion of Pennsylvania’s engineered herd of wild elk, the largest east of the Mississippi.)

“Right now everything is on the table, but we do have to be mindful that we don't want to disturb the soil too much, and we don't want the area to lose its wild attractions,” Crisp added. 

Once updated, Cameron County Commissioner Josh Zucal estimates the site could bring in 10,000 visitors annually. Zucal said that aspect of the undertaking has been met with excitement and reservation from locals. Some are worried about the impact telescope-toting throngs might have on the wild aura of the Pennsylvania Wilds region.

A group of people in a field at sunset.
A photo of the proposed site. (Courtesy of Rowan Crisp)

Zucal, who notes the potential economic benefits, expanded on that tension: “We do want these people in the county. We want them coming to experience what we have, and to have the opportunity to possibly live here. But at the same time, know that we are also aware that we don't want to change our dynamic. We don't want to be overflowed with tourism to where it ruins the natural experience, but we do want people to have that natural experience at the same time.”

The number of visitors is only likely to grow if the site obtains international dark sky certification, which Crisp said is a possibility. Cherry Springs, in neighboring Potter County, already has such a designation and can attract up to 90,000 visitors annually. Stargazing there has been described as a primal experience and draws visitors from around the world.

Crowding concerns weren’t the primary focus of a public meeting held on the Cameron County proposal Thursday, but lots of questions were raised that still need to be answered. 

Among the open topics: What’s the best way to deal with the site’s “unbearable mosquitoes”? (Bat houses were one idea.) Should Wi-Fi be made available? How should stargazing crowds be located to avoid scaring off the area’s skittish elk? And can the site be made available in the winter, when nights are longer and stargazing conditions ideal? 

The site, which consists of little more than a dirt road now, is currently open to the public from April to October. 

And while it sits in one of the darkest zones in the entire state, light pollution isn’t out of the question.

The firm brought in to help with the planning effort, Virginia’s Lardner/Klein Landscape Architects, said as much in Thursday’s meeting, pointing to nearby Emporium, the county’s largest town with roughly 2,000 residents, as a spillover source worth watching.

Spotlight PA reported in 2023 that light pollution was a growing concern for officials, including Zucal, across the Pennsylvania Wilds, where darkness is a natural resource. After a dip during the pandemic, light contamination is slowly creeping back up.

Zucal is eyeing a countywide light pollution ordinance, “so that we can have one umbrella for everyone.”

In the meantime, he’s asking everyone with thoughts about the dark sky project to chime in.

A second public meeting is tentatively set for October. Crisp said when the plan is finalized, a final meeting will be held to share out the details. 

Members of the public can submit ideas and suggestions that may be incorporated into the master site plan using this survey through the first week of July.

“We are planning to have this plan wrapped up by the beginning of next year,” Zucal added. “This is the time for anybody who wants to have any kind of feedback.”

Tanisha Thomas, newsletter writer / reporting contributed by Colin Deppen

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A quote from a Pennsylvanian that we found interesting this week.
"It’s just cool to be in a room full of people who are as excited as I am about women’s sports.”
Chanaiah Maxwell at an event thrown by Watch Party Philly, which holds gatherings around women’s sports, including one this Sunday
Our favorite reader-submitted photo of the week.
One thing worth doing: Explore lush urban gardens in Philly's Society Hill neighborhood with self-guided tours this weekend. Advance tickets are $35 and good for both days. Door tickets are $40. Send us your photos by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
purple flowers up against a white wall
The answer to this week's Pennsylvania-centric trivia question.
After over 2,300 Negro League players from 1920 to 1948 were added to MLB’s statistics, Josh Gibson (answer "B"), of Pittsburgh's Homestead Grays, became the all-time career leader in several categories.

Thanks for reading. We'll see you back here next week.
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