Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, with the support of its partner the Glacier National Park Conservancy, announced last week that it has achieved provisional Gold Tier designation as Waterton-Glacier International Dark Sky Park through the International Dark Sky Association.
Dark skies are integral not only for human health and enjoyment, but play an essential role in wildlife health. Unnatural light can disrupt migration and other natural processes, putting wildlife at risk. Night skies are also important culturally, and are prominently featured in regional tribal creation stories. Recent studies suggest that upwards of one-third of the world’s population is unable to see the Milky Way due to light pollution around populated areas. The park’s night sky programs are the most popular programs in the park with some Logan Pass star party programs attracting upwards of 700 participants to a single programming event.
To achieve the designation, each park completed a significant number of lighting improvements to reduce light pollution as well as committing to completing further lighting retrofits in the coming years. The parks will also continue to educate visitors about the importance and significance of the dark night sky resource. The provisional designation means that the two parks will now have three years to attain a 67% retrofit rate of their non-compliant lighting fixtures.
To date, Glacier National Park has retrofitted approximately 29% percent of its fixtures. The park received significant philanthropic support from the Glacier National Park Conservancy to make this designation a reality, including: 1) completing the lighting inventory required in the application process, 2) completing the joint application for both park areas, and 3) funding continued retrofits of lighting fixtures. The Conservancy will kick off a campaign this summer to raise funds for the remainder of the needed improvements that must be completed by 2019.
Parks Canada and the National Park Service have been working cooperatively to achieve Dark Sky Status since 2006, but with the support from the Glacier National Park Conservancy, the parks overcame the final hurdles required to submit their application to the International Dark Sky Association last year. “The night sky provides perspective and inspiration, allowing us to reflect on our humanity and our place in the universe,” said John Donovan, Glacier National Park Conservancy Board Member and donor to the dark sky designation program. “Dark skies have become an endangered resource in their own right, and we are incredibly proud to help preserve and protect them to be enjoyed and experienced now and by future generations.”
As part of the application, the City of Columbia Falls, the City of Whitefish, the Waterton Natural History Association, University of Redlands, and members of the Big Sky Astronomy Club wrote letters of support.
“This is another significant step forward in our ongoing partnerships with Waterton Lakes National Park and the Glacier National Park Conservancy,” said Glacier National Park Superintendent Jeff Mow. “In a time when one third of the world’s population can no longer see the Milky Way, protecting this resource is essential. Through this partnership, our sister park to the north will join us in pursuing dark sky friendly infrastructure and programming. Here in Glacier, our philanthropic partner Glacier National Park Conservancy has served as a steadfast supporter of dark skies, supporting not only our application, but also our ongoing star parties, solar viewing, and other dark sky initiatives.” This coming year, the Conservancy will support the popular solar viewing and night sky viewing parties that regularly see 30,000 visitors each year.
"Dark night skies are a source of awe and wonder that many people cannot experience in cities and are integral to the health of nocturnal wildlife," said Waterton Lakes National Park Superintendent Ifan Thomas. "Parks Canada is proud to collaborate with the U.S. National Park Service to achieve the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park's provisional designation as the first trans-boundary IDA International Dark Sky Park. We are committed to protecting and presenting the natural wonder of the night skies."
International Dark Sky Association Executive Director J. Scott Feierabend commented that “the International Dark Sky Places Program has been a program of many firsts in its history, but today’s joint announcement of Glacier National Park and Waterton Lakes National Park as a provisional IDA Dark Sky Park is a first of special significance. In the spirit of the peace park and its history, we’re especially pleased that dark skies are a shared resource that furthers the sense of amity and goodwill between the United States and Canada. The new Dark Sky Park is the embodiment of the sense that all of humanity shares just one night sky that knows no limit at international boundaries.”
As a Dark Sky Park, collectively Waterton and Glacier will serve as a leader in dark sky preservation, promoting public dark sky programming, engaging with neighboring cities about the importance of dark skies, and continuing to upgrade and install night sky friendly lighting fixtures within the parks.
This summer, the parks will host a series of star parties and solar viewing programs for the public to learn more about this new designation.
About the IDA Dark Sky Places Program:
IDA established the International Dark Sky Places conservation program in 2001 to recognize excellent stewardship of the night sky. Designations are based on stringent outdoor lighting standards and innovative community outreach. Since the program began, 15 Communities, 46 Parks, 11 Reserves, 2 Sanctuaries and 3 Dark Sky Friendly Developments of Distinction have received International Dark Sky designations. For more information about the International Dark Sky Places Program, visit http://darksky.org/idsp.