This new 'Dark Sky' park straddles US and Canadian borders
As the world grows more populated and cities expand, it has become increasingly challenging to find places to view the night sky without light pollution. But, thanks to the naming of a new International Dark Sky Park, constellation hunters will be able to spot Ursa Major, Orion and Taurus for years to come.
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Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, comprised of Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada and Glacier National Park in Montana, announced on Aug. 12 that together they’d “received full certification as an International Dark Sky Park."
“The dark skies in the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park truly are spectacular,” said Ron Hallman, president and CEO of Parks Canada. “Designation of the Peace Park as the world’s first international transboundary Dark Sky Park shows the world our commitment to protecting the environment, while offering opportunities for visitors to connect with nature, even at night.”
Related: Three Dark Sky Parks in the US for extraordinary stargazing
The designation is granted by the International Dark-Sky Association, a group that since 2001 has sought to recognize places around the world for "excellent stewardship of the night sky." Beyond parks, the program also recognizes communities, reserves, sanctuaries and urban places that aim to “preserve and protect dark sites through responsible lighting policies and public education.”
To receive the title of Dark Sky Park, Waterton-Glacier installed LED lighting that allows visitors to still safely explore the park at night, without masking the cosmos above.
Related: In search of dark skies: How light pollution is spurring a new tourism industry
“Dark night skies are an important wilderness characteristic at Glacier National Park,” said Pete Webster, acting superintendent at Glacier National Park. “Clearly seeing the expanse of the universe increases a person's sense of solitude well beyond that of the terrestrial landscape. A Dark Skies designation aids International Peace Park visitors in finding their own wilderness solitude."
The border-straddling park now holds four joint designations: International Peace Park, Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site, and the first transboundary IDA International Dark Sky Park.
Related: Arches National Park now officially a Dark Sky Park
Dark Sky designations have the benefit of bringing more tourism dollars to less-visited communities. They also help distribute travelers at highly trafficked parks throughout a larger swath of time. Take the roughly 2.9 million people who visited Grand Canyon National Park in 2020, for example. Rather than the crush of all those travelers visiting during the same daylight hours, now they’re able to spread out throughout the day and night.
As Dark Sky tourism has grown in popularity over recent years, myriad areas have sought to nab a distinction of their own. The U.S. can now claim more than 60, including big names like Death Valley National Park, Joshua Tree National Park and Big Bend National Park, as well as lesser-known locales like Cherry Springs State Park in Pennsylvania.
Oodles more are in the application process, such as Merritt Reservoir State Recreation Area in Valentine, Nebraska, an area that for 28 years has hosted an annual Star Party for novice and expert astronomers.
To find a Dark Sky location near you, check out the International Dark-Sky Association’s interactive map.