FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – September 3, 2013
MOAB, Utah – In a collaborative effort to “celebrate starry skies” across the Colorado Plateau of the American Southwest, a voluntary cooperative is organizing to promote the preservation, enjoyment and tourism potential of stargazing and astronomy in the vast region.
The Colorado Plateau Dark Skies Cooperative is focused on the topographic heart of the high desert, forest and canyon country where the Four Corners states meet. The 130,000-square-mile Colorado Plateau, contains substantial parts of Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico. Its combination of high elevation, excellent air quality, low population density and frequent cloud-free weather afford world-class viewing and enjoyment of naturally dark, star-filled skies.
In daylight, the region’s striking scenery has long attracted millions of visitors annually to national and state parks, national forests, tribal lands, and other public lands. Now, their after-dark appeal is a rapidly growing phenomenon, too. Where the “drive-through” nature of some daytime tourist visits can be fleeting, stargazing fosters overnight stays that can pump more dollars into local economies. In much of the developed world, the experience of a dark sky in one’s own back yard is disappearing or gone. On the Colorado Plateau, the exceptional unfettered view of the Milky Way, planets, meteors and galaxies has become a major reason for many to visit from across the U.S. and around the world.
In support of this cooperative initiative, the National Park Service (NPS) has hired a full-time Colorado Plateau Dark Sky Cooperative Coordinator, Nate Ament, with an office in Moab, UT. Nate joined the cooperative with a diverse background of environmental education, resource management, and restoration coordination across the western U.S. He has spent most of his life on the plateau, exploring its wonders and working toward their preservation. Nate will work with the NPS’s own parks and with other land management agencies, interested communities, groups, businesses, and individuals to support local projects and promote civic engagement with the dark skies message.
“We commend the members of the Colorado Plateau Dark Sky Cooperative,” said W. Scott Kardel, managing director of the International Dark Sky Association. “Their work will help preserve valuable resources on the ground and in the sky while keeping the stars brightly shining over the plateau for generations to come.”
Dark Sky Cooperative members invite community discussion about what form initial local efforts might take – public meetings, lighting demonstration projects, night-skies festivals, dark-sky monitoring and the like. (A list of online resources is below.)
Although labeled for the Colorado Plateau, the region’s dark skies have no formal boundary. The initiative intends to support and encourage all who voluntarily seek to protect, enhance and appreciate the plateau’s night-sky resource as a recreational, economic and educational treasure. Other dark sky benefits include cultural heritage, improved habitat for nocturnal wildlife, energy conservation and greenhouse gas reduction, preservation of rural character, promotion of astronomy and the inspiration of youth with an interest in science.
Colorado Plateau communities such as Flagstaff, AZ and Springdale, UT already have adopted dark sky ordinances that foster the use of lighting that does not harm the night viewing environment. Some communities, businesses, individuals and government agencies also are retrofitting light fixtures to reverse past practices that may have unnecessarily dimmed clear night views.
In federal and state public lands alone, the Colorado Plateau’s dark sky resource is enormous and rich. The plateau contains at least 27 national parks and monuments, five national forests, many Bureau of Land Management (BLM) areas, and several state parks of the Four Corners states. In 2007, Natural Bridges National Monument in southeastern Utah was named the world’s first-ever “Dark Sky Park” by the International Dark-Sky Association. In many of the national parks, stargazing programs are the most popular ranger-led activity, day or night. A number of of them have annual night-sky festivals, as do some plateau communities. On September 6-7, 2013, Wayne County, UT will hold its fourth annual Heritage Starfest.
Nor is this a new activity. People have been drawn to view the Colorado Plateau night skies for millennia, from prehistoric ancestors of pueblo Indian peoples to astronomers, vacationers and dreamers today. Bryce Canyon National Park in southern Utah, which averages 305 cloudless nights a year, has hosted stargazing programs continuously since 1969. In 2012, the park reported approximately 52,000 night-sky related visits and $2 million in associated benefits to local economies.
“The public knows that the dark skies of the Colorado Plateau are both a celestial treasure and a celestial refuge,” said Chad Moore, Night Skies Team leader for the Park Service, one of the partners working to organize the cooperative. “We are happy to partner in this effort so that residents and visitors alike will see this ‘dark harbor’ as something worth protecting now and for the future.”
There are numerous online resources for further information, including:
The International Dark-Sky Association website (http://www.darksky.org/)
Local government dark-skies activities in Colorado Plateau communities:
-- Flagstaff, AZ (http://www.flagstaffdarkskies.org/)
The National Park Service Night Sky website (http://www.nature.nps.gov/night/ )
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