International Dark Sky Park
Merritt Trading Post
Valentine, NE 69201
Merritt Reservoir State Recreation Area (SRA) is situated in the north-central portion of the state of Nebraska, United States – a region known for its vast landscapes characterized by expansive prairies, rolling hills, and wide open skies. Merritt SRA is located in the Sandhills ecoregion, one of the world’s largest grass-stabilized dune regions and home to a diversity of plants and animals. The Sandhills are an essential resource for migratory birds, so much so that the American Bird Conservancy has described the region as the “best grassland bird place in the United States.”
The Merritt Dam and Reservoir site itself was constructed to support a rapidly growing population in the years after the American Civil War. By the 1940s, residents focused on developing irrigation, power generation, and flood control to harness energy and store water from the Niobrara River Basin. The dam and its irrigation system were completed in 1964, bolstering the agriculture and farming industries in the region. The 729-acre SRA unit is part of a larger 9,785-acre complex of lands owned by the US Forest Service and Bureau of Reclamation. Through an agreement with the Bureau of Reclamation, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission manages the water and land resources of the SRA itself. Visitors searching for outdoor recreation opportunities at Merritt SRA may enjoy activities such as hiking, fishing, boating, camping, birding, and hunting.
Night sky quality surveys demonstrate an exceptionally dark nocturnal environment at this location. Ongoing monitoring with a permanent data logging device will be part of a long-term commitment to evaluate night sky quality in and around the SRA. Night sky education and interpretation through the Wildlife Education Program are designed to provide Nebraskans and visitors with science-based education. Additional programs are being developed through a network of partners, including the Nebraska Tourism Commission, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Nebraska Star Party Planning Committee, and other local non-profit organizations. Long-term commitments by these entities will focus on the threats to the region’s night sky quality through education, outreach, and policy initiatives. Specifically, this team will include workshops highlighting the benefits of astrotourism and training to help the public make responsible outdoor lighting decisions.
Click here to find ideal environmental conditions for viewing the night sky at Merritt Reservoir State Recreation Area, (42.596, -100.892). Don’t forget to plan your trip during the new moon and astronomical twilight to enhance the viewing experience!