City dwellers may spend their entire life not seeing the wonders of night sky. The north starshadowed by a bright moon may be the extent of their star gazing experience.Many people who live in rural regions maymiss the night sky and the show that is always abovethem.But if you find the right spot, you can see billions of stars that make up the milky way. It can be a truly magical activity to do with your family. It can beas easy as looking up if you are far enough away from human-made light pollution.Where are the best places to Star Gaze?
A great resource to review is the International Dark Sky Places Program. While it may not be possible to plan a vacation to a wilderness area whenever you want to see the milky way, you may be surprised to find locations near cities -even places like Chicago. many times you do not have to travel far to create fun family activities. Don't forget your star gazing gear such as a headlamp (with red-light mode), a starwheel, compass and even binoculars.
Starwheel and Headlamp found in the Wild Life Outdoor Adventures Kit No. 2 Into The Night
Packing a pair of binoculars is a great idea, you would be surprised how much more you can see with even a bit of magnification. Knowing what to look for and being able to identify stars can make this outdoor family activity even more fun and interesting! Tinybeans writes some fantastic tips on practical and easy ways to get your kids interested in stars and astronomy.
The International Dark Sky program has five types of designations.
1.Dark Sky Communities
2.Dark Sky Parks
3.Dark Sky Reserves
4.Dark Sky Sanctuaries
5.Urban Night Sky Places
Let’s review a couple of each type.
Dark Sky Communities
An IDA International Dark Sky Community is a town, city, municipality, or other legally organized community that has shown exceptional dedication to the preservation of the night sky through the implementation and enforcement of a quality outdoor lighting ordinance, dark sky education and citizen support of dark skies. Dark Sky Communities excel in their efforts to promote responsible lighting and dark sky stewardship and set good examples for surrounding communities. Darksky.org
Examples of such communities include the following:
Bon Accord – Alberta, Canada
Near Edmonton, this town of 1,500 residents, is a farming community that sees how belonging to the Dark Sky program can appeal to new residents and tourists.
Sedona – Arizona, U.S.
A popular spot for tourist and the film industry set among red rocks of the American Old West.
Dark Sky Park
According to the International Dark-Sky Association, An IDA International Dark Sky Park (IDSP) is a land possessing an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and a nocturnal environment that is specifically protected for its scientific, natural, educational, cultural heritage, and/or public enjoyment. The land may be publicly owned, or privately owned provided that the landowner(s) consent to the right of permanent, ongoing public access to specific areas included in the IDA designation. Darksky.org
The importance of these parks goes beyond providing outdoor adventures and personal enjoyment. Artificial lighting has created disruptions in the nocturnal environment, including plants, animals, and humans. They interfere with our circadian rhythms. Parks are now including light pollution as an area of mitigation.
While National Parks may be crowded by day, getting out into the night may be best way to avoid the masses. Many parks have astronomers during certain lunar events, or local clubs show up to share the skies with visitors. Here is a short list of Dark Sky Parks around North America. See the full list on theDarksky.orgwebsite.
Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park - Alberta, Canada/Montana, U.S
Sitting on the border of Montana in the U.S. and Alberta in Canada, this park is known for its rugged mountains and rich diversity in flora and fauna. Park management recognize that dark skies is also a conservation priority.
Big Bend National Park – Texas, U.S.
This destination park is tucked into the isolated corner of west Texas and the US-Mexico border. This is a great place to miss the crowds and participate in a star party or guided moonlit park. For a bonus, the McDonald Observatory is only 113 miles northwest.
Here are other top ranked U.S. Dark Sky Parks you can explore:
- Natural Bridges National Monument: Lake Powell, Utah
- Chaco Culture National Historical Park: New Mexico
- Death Valley National Park: California and Nevada
- James River State Park: Gladstone, Virginia
- Dinosaur National Monument: Colorado and Utah
- Cherry Springs State Park: Coudersport, Pennsylvania
- Grand Canyon National Park: Arizona
- Great Basin National Park: Utah
- Headlands; Michigan
As the National Parks are experiencing overcrowding, why not opt-in to some night excursions, where the crowds are in the sky -providing a much needed awesome silence.
Dark Sky Reserve
An IDA International Dark Sky Reserve is a public or private land possessing an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and nocturnal environment that is specifically protected for its scientific, natural, educational, cultural, heritage and/or public enjoyment. Reserves consist of a core area meeting minimum criteria for sky quality and natural darkness, and a peripheral area that supports dark sky preservation in the core. Reserves are formed through a partnership of multiple land managers who have recognized the value of the natural nighttime environment through regulations and long-term planning.Darksky.org
The difference inthis designation from those above is that a preserve can be on public orprivate land.
This was the location of the first International Dark Sky Reserve. It includes 34 municipalities intwo counties. Their dedication was proven when they replaced about 2,500 light fixtures thatreduced light pollution by 25%.
An area of over 1,400 square miles situated within the Sawtooth Mountains and includes theworld-class skiing area of Sun Valley.
Dark Sky Sanctuaries
An IDA Dark Sky Sanctuary is public or private land that has an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and a nocturnal environment that is protected for its scientific, natural, or educational value, its cultural heritage and/or public enjoyment. Darksky.org
A sanctuary is different from the other designations above due to its remote location andlimited access.
Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness–Minnesota, U.S.
Includes 1,200 miles of canoe routes and 2,000 designated campsites.The experience mimicswhat travellers experienced centuries ago.
Urban Night Sky Places
An IDA Urban Night Sky Place is a municipal park, open space, observing site, or other similar property near or surrounded by large urban environs whose planning and design actively promote an authentic nighttime experience in the midst of significant artificial light. By virtue of their characteristics, these sites do not qualify for designation within any other International Dark Sky Places category. However, they are worthy of recognition for their efforts to educate the public on the benefits of proper outdoor lighting that ensures public safety while minimizing potential harm to the natural nighttime environment.
This is the smallest grouping with only five U.S. designations. The process is arduous and requires the support of the entire community.
Palos Preserve–Illinois, U.S.
Part of the Forest Preserves in Cook County which is home to 8 million people in the Chicagoarea.
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