Grand Canyon named world’s best place to Stargaze

Grand Canyon National Park
Photo by astronomer Tyler Nordgren.

2019 has been an iconic year for the Grand Canyon. February of 2019, the Grand Canyon marked it’s first 100 years. In addition, On June 22, 2019 the International Dark-Sky Association named Grand Canyon the Dark Sky Place of the Year (AKA the world’s best place for stargazing). Here’s why it’s a big deal.

What is an International Dark Sky (IDA) Park?

The International Dark Sky Park is an award nominated by the International Dark Sky Association. This honor is bestowed to parks that reorient their parks lights, educate visitors on the importance of the night sky, and inspires the world to address light pollution in their communities.

However, only nine of the 61 national parks in the U.S. are certified International Dark Sky Parks. Grand Canyon happens to be one of them.

Why is the night sky so significant?

First, picture gazing up at the sky detailed with thousands of stars, surrounding the center of the Milky Way. You can see the fully formed constellation, depicting the stories of our ancestors long before our time. Amazing, right?

Now, imagine looking up at a gray, cloudy sky. Surely, if you squint hard enough you can see a handful of glimmers in the sky, possibly resembling distant stars. Not as admirable.

The U.S. National Park Service stresses, “Unfortunately, for 60% of Americans today, the Milky Way is no longer visible. Light pollution from the inefficient use of outdoor lighting will block the view of the Milky Way for 4 out 5 children born today if this trend continues.” Moreover, light pollution dissolves our cultural connections, wastes resources, hinders scientific explorations of the night sky, and has a negative impact on wildlife. On a positive note, light pollution is 100% fixable.

The Journey to Dark Sky Status

This pioneered the Grand Canyon and National Park Service’s efforts to create an authentic experience for visitors to enjoy a natural, star-filled, night sky landscape. A natural, night sky landscape that is unimpaired by artificial lighting, and facilitates decreasing light pollution.

Preliminary efforts to gain Dark Sky Park status began in 2016, when the International Dark Sky Association named the Grand Canyon a provisional International Dark Sky Status. As a result, the provisional status provided the Grand Canyon three years to retrofit two-thirds of the lights to meet IDA standards.

Grand Canyon boasts over 6 million visitors annually. For that reason, there was a legacy of over 5,000 exterior light fixtures in the park, ultimately hindering its full glory. The Grand Canyon had to retrofit 67% of the light fixtures to be dark-sky complaint. At the time, 35% of the lights were dark-sky compliant. In May of 2019, the Grand Canyon completed the retrofit process of an additional 34% of light fixtures. This equaled 69% total dark sky compliant lights in the park.

The number of lights recorded and retrofitted in this process makes the Grand Canyon the largest, most complex, International Dark Sky Parks in the world. Thus, receiving the International Dark Sky Place of the Year award.

Furthermore, this project would not have been successful without the Grand Canyon Conservancy (GCC), the non-profit partner of the Canyon whom funded the entire project. GCC relies solely on donations in order to obtain long-term renovations and educational programs.

What does International Dark Sky Place of the Year mean for the Grand Canyon?

The International Dark Sky Park certification aids the Canyon in significant ways. Firstly, it helps expand educational programs about the importance of appropriate lighting. Secondly, it gives IDA and the Canyon various opportunities to work together toward common goals.

Mindy Riesenberg, director of marketing and communications for the conservancy responds, “To be awarded the International Dark Sky Place of the Year is a true honor, especially as we commemorate 100 years as a national park this year. We’re committed to continuing to protect the canyon’s night sky and ensuring its star-filled nights remain for future generations.”

The award will be formally presented in November 2019 at a ceremony at International Dark-Sky Association headquarters in Tucson.

In the years to come, the Canyon plans to make the park’s lights 90% dark sky complaint.

Ways you can support the Grand Canyon and National Park Service in their Dark Sky efforts:

NPS hosts evening programs about the night sky in spring, summer, early fall:  https://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/sr-programs.htm

NPS hosts a Star Party at Grand Canyon every June: https://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/grand-canyon-star-party.htm

Yavapai Lodge has a Constellations at the Canyon Package: https://www.visitgrandcanyon.com/yavapai-lodge/lodge-packages-specials

Shop Grand Canyon has a Dark Sky category: https://shopgrandcanyon.com/souvenirs/dark-sky/

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