Bare Dark Sky Observatory

Mayland Earth to Sky Park & Bare Dark Sky Observatory

International Dark-sky Association (IDA) Certification

The Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina have stood as silent witnesses to the uninterrupted, nightly rain of starlight for nearly a half-billion years, but artificial light now threatens this nightly show. In honor of notable local efforts to preserve the natural nighttime landscape of western North Carolina, the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) designated the Mayland Earth to Sky Park and Bare Dark Sky Observatory as the first IDA-certified Star Park in the southeastern United States. The Blue Ridge Astronomy Group (BRAG), a local amateur astronomy society, was instrumental in supporting MCC’s application to the Dark Sky Places Program.

The Mayland Earth to Sky Park and Bare Dark Sky Observatory is the first program participant:

  • located in the southeastern United States;
  • operated under the auspices of an institution of higher learning; and
  • whose outdoor lighting consists entirely of fully-shielded, low-color-temperature light emitting diode (LED) fixtures at the time the IDA award is conferred.

About IDA

The International Dark Sky Association, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization based in Tucson, Arizona, advocates for the protection of the nighttime environment and dark night skies by educating policymakers and the public on the subject of night sky conservation and by promoting environmentally responsible outdoor lighting. IDA established the International Dark Sky Places conservation program in 2001 to recognize excellent stewardship of the night sky. Designations are based on stringent outdoor lighting standards and innovative community outreach. For more information about the International Dark Sky Places Program, visit http://www.darksky.org/night-sky-conservation/dark-sky-places.

The Mayland Earth to Sky Park and Bare Dark Sky Observatory is the first whose outdoor lighting consists entirely of fully-shielded, low-color-temperature light emitting diode (LED) fixtures. Jon Wilmesherr, MCC Director of Learning Resources Center and Distance Education, and who led the effort to secure the IDA award, is optimistic that the Star Park will serve as a model for lighting conservation and highlighting the urgent need for the preservation of the natural night sky. Wilmesherr retrofitted all the existing outdoor lighting at the park with new state-of-the-art Cree LED light bulbs, each using only 6 watts of electricity. The lights fit all the optimum specifications for brightness, color temperature, and low wattage. Cree is a North Carolina company with headquarters in Durham.

Want to visit the Star Park?

  • The GPS coordinates are: 35°55′52″N 082°11′03″W
  • The physical address is: 66 Energy Exchange Dr, Burnsville, NC 28714
  • Camping is not allowed!
  • Need a place to stay? There are wonderful options nearby in Mitchell County, Yancey County, and Avery County.  

Please note that visitors to the Mayland Earth to Sky Park and Bare Dark Sky Observatory, including the Star Park, are here at their own risk, and will hold Mayland Community College harmless in the event of an incident. The road to the ESP is steep and winding, and there may be large trucks on the way to and from the neighboring waste transfer station. You may hear noise from MCC’s firing range which is nearby.

If you visit for star-gazing at night, please remember that lighting is kept to a minimum so that we preserve our dark skies, so bring a flashlight and be prepared to walk on uneven terrain. If gate is closed, please park just outside the gate, without blocking the gate - it must be allowed to open. Walk around/ under the gate on foot, and use caution walking up the hill. The ESP parking lot is an ideal flat space for setting up telescopes.

See current conditions.

To find out about Mayland Earth to Sky Park and Bare Dark Sky Observatory events, please call 828-766-1269 for information or visit the Observatory page.