A saying in Utah’s national parks holds that “half the park is in the dark,” and on Monday Canyonlands National Park announced it has received new recognition for its darker half.
Canyonlands stands out for what you don’t see there at night: light pollution that obscures the Milky Way and other features of the night sky. Because of it, the International Dark Sky Association has given its highest honors to Canyonlands.
“We hear great stories from people,” says Nate Ament, dark sky coordinator in the southeastern Utah parks, “about their views of the night skies in national parks being this life-changing experience or this eye-opening experience gateway into something they’ve never been able to see where they live or where they grew up.”
Canyonlands is now one of eight national parks with the distinction, along with Hovenweep and Natural Bridges National Monuments. Capitol Reef earned the distinction in March.
The designation isn’t just bragging rights. It’s a sign of successful efforts to limit light pollution and educate the public about another dimension of environmental conservation. Kevin Poe, a dark-sky advocate who runs an astronomy tourism business outside Bryce Canyon National Park, says a dark sky is part of a healthy habitat for wildlife, too.
“By protecting the quality of natural darkness, whether it’s in the auspices of astronomy or not, you’re also providing this other huge ecological benefit,” he says.
The National Park Service, the Friends of Arches and Clark Planetarium are planning a public celebration and astronomy events at Island in the Sky on September 18th.