The Grand Canyon Was Just Designated a Dark Sky Park

June 7, 2016 | Joanne Kennell

The summer Milky Way sets over Grand Canyon National Park
Photo credit: U.S. National Park Service

Head to the canyon any day until June 11 for free telescope viewings and tours!

Fantastic news out of Arizona: the Grand Canyon National Park is now a Provisional International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) International Dark Sky Park. What this means is that the park, located on the Colorado Plateau, will remain a “protective harbor for some of the best night skies in the country,” said IDA Executive Scott Feierabend in an IDA news release.

The International Dark Sky Places conservation program was established in 2001 by the IDA to promote the preservation and protection of dark sites through responsible lighting policies and public education in communities all over the world. In fact, many of the best protected night skies in the US are found within national park boundaries.

So far, eleven other national parks sites (NPS) have been certified by the IDA, with eight of the park sites — including the Grand Canyon — located on the Colorado Plateau. To become certified by the IDA, the NPS have to comply with IDA’s strict lighting guidelines which focus on sustainable outdoor lighting that combines technology, design, and practice in a way that allows parks to not only increase energy efficiency, but also improve visitor experiences.

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When the Grand Canyon submitted its application for IDA certification, only 43 percent of the park’s lights met IDA criteria. These rules stipulate that the lights only be on when needed, only light the area that needs it, be no brighter than necessary, minimize blue light emissions, and be fully shielded (face downwards).

But since the Grand Canyon is one of the most complex regions the IDA has ever seen, with an inventory of thousands of light fixtures on both the rims and the inner portions of the canyon, they have given the Grand Canyon National Park three years to comply with the lighting improvements.

The Grand Canyon should be awarded full IDA Dark Sky certification in 2019 — marking the 100th anniversary of the national park.

“Grand Canyon offers a spectacular night sky that visitors come from all over the world to experience. That experience would not be the same without the help of our staff, community, the NPS Natural Resource Stewardship and Science Directorate, the generous support from Grand Canyon Association, and of course the IDA,” said Jane Rodgers, Deputy Chief of Science and Resource Management.

Currently, the Grand Canyon Association (GCA), which is the park’s official not-for-profit sponsor, is hosting a Star Party. The Star Party will continue every night this week until June 11 on both the South and North canyon rims.

On the South Rim at the Grand Canyon Visitor Center, there will be slideshows, Constellation Tours, and free telescope viewings any time after dark. On the North Rim, astronomers will be setting up telescopes on the veranda of the Grand Canyon Lodge and will also offer slide shows in the lodge auditorium. In addition to the Star Party, park rangers will be offering night sky walks and talks throughout the year.

A natural, dark night sky is not only great for skywatching, it is also extremely important to the region’s overall ecosystem health. Over 60 percent of all known species in the area are nocturnal.

You might also like this video: Explore the Grand Canyon from the Stratosphere!

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