Bare Dark Sky Observatory

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 MCC Blue Ridge Star Park and 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 MCC 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

The Mayland Community College Blue Ridge Observatory and Star Park 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.

Future Observatory Building

We plan to build an observatory atop a peak at an elevation of 2,736 feet that will offer a 360 degree view. The observatory will be operated by volunteers from Blue Ridge Astronomy Group (BRAG).  The goal is to build the observatory building using the same plans that were used to build the new Lookout Observatory in Asheville, N.C.  The "blueprints" for the roll-off roof observatory building (designed by local architect Armin Wessel) that will be the permanent home of the 34" telescope includes a classroom/ meeting space and restrooms under a fixed roof, and the entire facility will be wheelchair accessible. The images in the slide-show below are of Lookout Observatory, a joint project of UNC-Asheville and the Astronomy Club of Asheville. They will give you an idea of how the proposed observatory will look:



The telescope will be an f/3.6 StarStructure Newtonian telescope, with a 34 inch (0.86 meter) mirror. It will be the largest telescope in the Southeast in dark skies dedicated for public use for educational and public outreach activities. For similar telescopes, see

The Samuel L. Phillips Family Foundation, a local nonprofit organization, provided funding for fabrication of the telescope’s main mirror. To see our telescope mirror, go to and scroll about half way down the page to see our “34" f/3.6 visual Newtonian.”

To support the building of our new Observatory, click here!


Want to visit the Star Park?

Please note that visitors to the Estatoe facility, 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 Estatoe Center 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. Be aware that we are raising pigs at the Estatoe Center.

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 EnergyXchange parking lot is an ideal flat space for setting up telescopes.

See current conditions.

To find out about Star Park events, please call 828-766-1269 for information.