KETCHUM, Idaho — Sun Valley will soon be known as more than America’s first ski destination.
A 1,400-square mile area encompassing Sun Valley, Ketchum, Stanley and the forests between is now a sanctuary for stargazers, the Times-News reported.
Dark sky proponents learned Monday evening that the Tucson, Ariz.-based International Dark-Sky Association will make that portion of central Idaho, which includes parts of Blaine, Boise, Custer and Elmore counties, the United States’ first Dark Sky Reserve.
The Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve is the largest of 12 Dark Sky Reserves around the world, including those in England, Wales, France, Germany, Africa, Canada and New Zealand. It received certification for its exceptional starry nights and nocturnal environment.
The designation is designed to help preserve the skies above for future generations to enjoy.
“Every year we’ll have to look at the local lights to see if they’re in compliance. Every year we’ll have to keep on improving so this is not a one-and-done deal,” said Betsy Mizell, community engagement associate for the Ketchum office of the Idaho Conservation League.
Scientists estimate that 80 percent of Americans cannot see the stars due to light pollution, and that pollution is increasing 6 percent each year.
A new study published in the journal Science Advances, showed that artificial light is negatively affecting the pollination of plants, the spreading of seeds by nocturnal creatures and reproduction and migratory patterns. Artificial light is also causing sleep disorders among some humans.
“We’re the reason for light pollution. And we are the ones who can solve it,” Mizell said. ICL sent volunteers out earlier this year to take meter readings in different areas of the proposed reserve for the International Dark-Sky Association to consider.
“We can turn lights off,” she added. “We can install lights that don’t shine into the sky.”
The establishment of the Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve could help pave the way for astrotourism in the Sun Valley and Stanley areas.
Ketchum Mayor Nina Jonas said she got a glimpse of the interest in space during the total solar eclipse on Aug. 21, which brought 400 members of the American Astronomical Society to Sun Valley.
John Baretine, program manager for the International Dark-Sky Association, says he sees a rising middle class in places like China that are eager to spend their money visiting out-of the-way places to see the night sky.
Mizell noted the designation might spur a dark sky festival, such as the Jasper Dark Sky Festival. That festival, held in mid-October, includes a Symphony under the Stars, dark sky photo tours, a sky trams star session and full moon hikes.
Astronomer Matt Benjamin, who teaches astronomy at the University of Colorado-Boulder, visits Sun Valley regularly, in part to view the stunning night sky.
“I can’t see what I see here at home because of the light from Denver. Even Rocky Mountain National Park has nothing close to the night sky you see here,” he said. “The Grand Canyon is impacted by lights from Phoenix and Las Vegas. Central Idaho is the last great place to see the stars so it makes sense to preserve it.”