Founded in 1919, Grand Canyon National Park is one of the oldest national parks in the country. Considered one of the seven wonders of the world, the 277-mile long, one-mile deep canyon attracts about five million visitors each year. Though known for its dramatic geological features, the park also offers stunning views of the night sky.
In recognition of the park’s efforts to protect their natural dark-sky resource, Grand Canyon National Park was awarded provisional International Dark Sky Park status in 2016. Provisional status granted the park an additional three years to get two-thirds of all park lighting into compliance with IDA guidelines. With the help of Grand Canyon National Park Lodges (GCNPL), the concessionarie that operates many of the hotels and restaurants in the park, Grand Canyon National Park is on track to attain full Dark Sky Park status in time for its centennial celebration this year. Working in partnership with the National Park Service, GCNPL is installing dark sky compliant lamps and fixtures in place of many of the park’s 5,000 outdoor lights.
Arizona Room, before (left) and after (right) retrofit. Photo: NPS
A few years ago, a local newspaper published a picture of bright lights emanating from buildings on the South Rim of the canyon, which was a wakeup call for David Perkins, Director of Sustainability for GCNPL. He thought, “I would hate for people on the North Rim to look across the canyon and see skyglow.” He recalled a promotional video produced by GCNPL featuring a company employee encouraging visitors “to step outside and look up.” So, when the National Park Service (NPS) initiated the process to become a International Dark Sky Park, Perkins was very excited for the opportunity to partner with the agency to retrofit lights on buildings managed by GCNPL.
El Tovar – North Porch, before (left) and after (right) retrofit. Photo: NPS
Although there were initially some concerns about safety with the new lighting, Perkins says that people have adjusted to the new nighttime normal. In fact, visitors and employees often express appreciation for the opportunity to see the night sky in the park now.
The retrofit project is one of the many sustainability initiatives in progress at Grand Canyon National Park Lodges properties. The company is currently constructing a new hotel in compliance with LEED gold standards, which includes efficient cooling and heating systems, reclaimed water for toilets, and dark-sky approved lighting. Additionally, the concessionaire is working on diverting solid waste from its facilities, making conscious choices about food sourcing for its restaurants, and is either composting food waste or feeding it to the 148 mules that travel with tourists into the canyon.
The effort to attain International Dark Dark Sky Park status is directly tied to the park’s centennial celebration, which will include the park’s annual Star Party event. The theme of the 100th birthday celebration is “Past and Present,” and the park will feature side-by-side pictures from 1919 and 2019 to highlight changes over the park’s 100-year history. It is IDA’s hope that, with the majority of the park’s outdoor lights in compliance, the 2019 photos will look a lot like those from 1919 in at least one respect: the natural darkness of the night sky will be preserved.