ST. JOE, Ark.- The Buffalo National River is an Arkansas spectacle, bringing in more than a million and a half visitors a year.
Its traditional attractions have made it a destination for generations, but Allan Staib has his sites set on something else the area has to offer.
“If you want to see deep sky objects you’ve got to be where there’s a good black sky,” Staib said.
Staib is an amateur astronomer and has expert-level curiosity and equipment he loves to share at the Tyler Bend Pavilion. The site is about 2 hours north of Little Rock in Searcy County.
“I’m hoping to get some other kid, some other 10 year old today like I was 60 years ago [interested in astronomy],” Staib said.
It’s a spark that never left him.
The night we came to visit was shaping up to be one of the best to put the telescopes to work.
As the sun sets, the barrier of lights blocking much of the world from experiencing the universe is lifted.
Half the park is revealed after dark.
And it is only getting darker as the Buffalo is applying to be an International Dark Sky Park.
If awarded, it will be the only one in Arkansas.
“It’s not about taking light completely out of the park. It’s about putting the right amount of light where we need it, when we need it,” Casey Johannsen, Buffalo River Park Ranger said.
In the last two years, Johannsen has been working to bring the park into compliance.
They’ve added educational programming, volunteer astronomers and switched all lighting to be dimmer and amber colored.
“You think of us as a park and how many light fixtures can you really have? Well, you’d be surprised,” Johannsen said.
Bruce McMath approached the Buffalo about becoming a dark park in 2016.
“The Natural State ought to have natural skies, somewhere,” McMath said.
As the chairman of the Arkansas Natural Sky Association, he educates people on the harmful effects of blue light and light pollution both on the environment and human health.
“A 100-watt bulb left on all night for a year produces almost a half a ton of carbon dioxide,” he said.
With 135 miles of river to cover, the subtle changes open up dramatic views unseen in cities, like the rings of our Milky Way galaxy and the International Space Station barreling across the night sky.
“Just contemplate what you’re looking at, an infinity filled with stars,” McMath said.
A mind-altering, soul-searching sight that recharges astronomers like Staib, and fuels his passion to reveal what’s been lost.
“It’s just such a shame that everyone in the world doesn’t have the opportunity to experience this, but we do,” Staib said.