*Photo courtesy Greg Owens/National Park Service
Stargazing is awesome anytime and anywhere, but it's so much better when there's not much light pollution around to dim your view of the night skies. In a rapidly developing world, such spots aren't so easy to find, but now, Colorado has its first-ever formally designated International Dark Sky Park.
The International Dark Sky Association announced earlier this week that the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park meets all the criteria for designation, which means that Black Canyon has exceptional opportunities to observe dark skies, and has implemented a program of dark sky preservation, education, and opportunities for the public to enjoy the night sky.
Black Canyon sits on the edge of the great open spaces shared by western Colorado and southeast Utah, making it a refuge for phenomenal dark, protected skies. It is also close to large population areas, giving visitors the distinct opportunity of being able to observe dark skies without having to travel great distances from urban centers. This blend of opportunities has made Black Canyon a dark sky destination for many years.
Beginning in 1998, Black Canyon partnered with the Black Canyon Astronomical Society in Montrose and Delta, Colorado to present a variety of programs. Thousands of visitors have stepped up to a telescope at Black Canyon and said "Wow!" The support and dedication of the membership of the astronomical society was integral in making this designation possible.
With that support, park staff and local astronomers have been working for several years to make improvements in park lighting, ensuring that it is night sky and wildlife friendly. Staff and local astronomers perform light fixture and bulb replacement, dark sky monitoring, outreach programs, news media articles, and in-park interpretive programs engaging the public in the dark sky discussion and conservation efforts.
"The staff of Black Canyon is thrilled to be the ninth National Park Service site designated by the International Dark Sky Association as a Dark Sky Park," said park superintendent Bruce Noble. "There are many opportunities throughout the year for local, national and international visitors to enjoy the night sky at Black Canyon and learn more about our conservation efforts encouraging the appreciation of such an amazing resource."
The park was greatly assisted in this effort by the National Park Service (NPS) Natural Sounds & Night Skies Division, NPS Intermountain Regional Office, Colorado Plateau Dark Sky Cooperative, and Western National Parks Association. Special thanks to the membership of the Black Canyon Astronomical Society. This endeavor would not have been possible without their expertise, commitment, and support of dark skies at Black Canyon.
In celebration of Dark Sky Park status, visitors are invited to attend astronomy programs offered on the South Rim throughout the month of September. These include evening programs and night sky viewing on September 9, 11, and 16 along with a special observation of the total lunar eclipse on September 27. Other astronomy events take place throughout the year, culminating with the 7th annual Astronomy Festival in June, 2016. This includes four days of astronomy and solar programs. Sky Rangers, local astronomers, special speakers, and volunteers present programs relating to the many benefits and thrills of dark night skies.
For more information about Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, visit www.nps.gov/blca and www.facebook.com/blackcanyonnps. For more information about night skies in national parks, visit www.nature.nps.gov/night. For more information about the International Dark Sky Association and Dark Sky Park Designations, visit www.darksky.org.