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Reporting from the St. George area focused on local government, public lands and the environment, indigenous issues and faith and spirituality.

Bryce Canyon National Park Certified As International Dark Sky Park

Photo of a bus with the destination “star shuttle” picking up passengers in a dark parking lot.
David Fuchs / KUER
The "Star Shuttle" transported visitors to the telescope fields at the 2019 Bryce Canyon Astronomy Festival. The festival will celebrate its 20th anniversary next year.

Bryce Canyon National Park announced its official certification this week as an International Dark Sky Park.

The designation is awarded by the International Dark Sky Association, or IDA, and recognizes publicly accessible lands that have demonstrated strong commitments to protecting exceptionally dark skies. It does not carry any kind of legal authority. 

Bryce Canyon National Park is the 13th International Dark Sky Park in Utah. With a total of 15 International Dark Sky Places, Utah has more than any state in the country (or any country other than the United States).

The extensive certification process, which took more than ten years to complete, involved recording robust sky quality measurements, inventorying the park’s existing lighting fixtures and creating a light management plan to preserve the park’s night skies into perpetuity. 

Satellite imaging has shown that increasing light pollution worldwide is making truly dark skies a rarity. Linda Mazzu, the park’s superintendent, said Bryce Canyon’s new status will protect an important resource for Utahns moving forward.

“As fewer and fewer people are able to enjoy natural wonders like the Milky Way, dark places and commitments to protect them are more important than ever,” she said.

Photo of park visitors huddling in the darkness around a park ranger raising a flashlight with a red hue.
Credit David Fuchs / KUER
A ranger explains the ground rules of the telescope fields at the 2019 Bryce Canyon Astronomy Festival. In order to protect visitors' night vision, no white light is allowed.

The effort builds on a long tradition of dark sky appreciation in the park. 

This week’s announcement coincides with the park’s 50th anniversary of offering astronomy-based programming. The annual marquee event, the Bryce Canyon Astronomy Festival, has drawn nearly three-hundred thousand visitors to the park since 2010. 

Peter Densmore, the park’s visual information specialist, said the park’s new status is a good way to get out the word about all the astronomy services the park has to offer. 

“It’s really a way of advertising that this is a place where people can come for that experience,” he said, adding that he hopes it will spread awareness about the growing threat of light pollution to dark skies around the world. 

A celebratory dark-sky party will be held in the park on August 31.

David Fuchs is a Report for America corps member who reports from KUER's Southwest Bureau in St. George.

Correction 10:57 a.m. MDT 8/15/19: A previous version of this story said that Bryce was the 13th national park to be designated an International Dark Sky Park in Utah. There are 13 designated an International Dark Sky Parks in Utah, but not all of them are part of the national parks service. This has been corrected.

David is a reporter and producer working on Sent Away, an investigative podcast series from KUER, The Salt Lake Tribune and APM Reports.
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