Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's family of International Dark Sky parks is growing.
Jordanelle State Park in Wasatch County, Kodachrome Basin State Park in Garfield County and Rockport State Park in Summit County were all added to the list Thursday, giving Utah a total of 19 national, state and local parks with the designation — the most of any state in the country.
International Dark Sky Parks are a designation by the International Dark-Sky Association, which was created in 1988 with the effort of preserving night sky viewing that began to be threatened by light pollution. The organization argues that the harms of not preserving a night sky went beyond stargazing; they argue preserving the night sky has benefits for human and wildlife health and also safety and cost.
The association recognizes parks across the globe that provide support for protecting dark skies and comply with lighting requirements set by the organization. Ruskin Hartley, executive director of the International Dark-Sky Association, explained Thursday during an announcement about the parks on Facebook Live that it's not about removing artificial lights; rather it's about using them responsibly.
With the addition of three new parks, Utah is home to more than one-in-five parks in the world with current Dark Sky status. There are two communities also recognized by the association with Dark Sky status — with more that could be on the way. Hartley praised the Beehive State as the emerging "cultural movement heart of the dark sky movement."
Utah's current list of Dark Sky places (parks and communities) is now:
- Antelope Island State Park
- Arches National Park
- Bryce Canyon National Park
- Canyonlands National Park
- Capitol Reef National Park
- Cedar Breaks National Monument
- Dead Horse Point State Park
- Dinosaur National Monument
- East Canyon State Park
- Goblin Valley State Park
- Helper, Carbon County
- Hovenweep National Monument
- Jordanelle State Park
- Kodachrome Basin State Park
- Natural Bridges National Monument
- North Fork Park
- Rainbow Bridge National Monument
- Rockport State Park
- Steinaker State Park
- Timpanogos Cave National Monument
- Torrey, Wayne County
Protecting dark skies is an issue that Utah began to dedicate itself to about five years ago, said Justina Parsons-Bernstein, education specialists for Utah State Parks. With the help of staff across Utah's state parks, as well as National Park Service officials, scientists and even hobbyists, work was conducted to mirror the association's guidelines and preserve dark skies.
"I'd like to say if it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a galaxy of partners to get a Utah State Park designated … it just makes our state so proud that we have eight State Parks that are named International Dark Sky parks and 21 in the state," she said.
In many ways, dark skies can be viewed as one of Utah's natural resources because it's easily visible within many protected state and national parks and monuments, as well as other vast open spaces across the state. For instance, Kodachrome Basin is essentially sandwiched between Bryce Canyon National Park and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and there is a smaller population in the area. That made it easier for park officials to push for Dark Sky Park certification, said Nathan Martinez, park manager for Kodachrome Basin State Park.
Jordanelle and Rockport, on the other hand, are a pair of parks closer to Utah population hubs. Eric Bradshaw, Rockport/Echo complex manager for Utah State Parks, explained that the push for certification began with managers before him. They made lighting adjustments to reach the required lighting warmth and brightness, as well as how artificial lighting at the park is projected to reach certification.
It's seen as a heritage issue in Utah — that people for so long were able to view the Milky Way from where they lived and now we're losing that more and more as we're getting denser and denser (in the) urban and metropolitan core.
–Justina Parsons-Bernstein, education specialists for Utah State Parks
The association's standards include a maximum lighting temperature of 3000 Kelvins and that lighting fixtures project downward with appropriate cutoffs.
Plans are in the works to get more parks across the state certified and reverse the effects of artificial light, especially in areas where it impacts wildlife or history, Parsons-Bernstein said. That's on top of growing education projects about dark skies to keep the preservation of dark skies going in the future.
The work to preserve dark skies has gone beyond parks in recent years. State legislators passed a resolution in 2018 calling on Utahns "to transition outdoor lighting from unshielded to shielded in accordance with IDA standards" in an effort to curb light pollution. Park City is among the areas in the state that announced lighting changes in an effort to reach Dark Sky Community recognition.
Parsons-Bernstein said she believes the state's push for more dark sky regulations goes beyond its love for the outdoors.
"It's seen as a heritage issue in Utah — that people for so long were able to view the Milky Way from where they lived and now we're losing that more and more as we're getting denser and denser (in the) urban and metropolitan core," she said. "But one of the exciting things we say is light pollution is reversible and we're getting that word out."