Bryce Canyon certified as International Dark Sky Park on 50th anniversary of night sky programs

ST. GEORGE — Bryce Canyon National Park has been certified as an International Dark Sky Park, a designation that coincides with its 50th year of focusing on astronomy education and programs. 

Founded in 2001, the International Dark-Sky Association recognizes communities that have taken significant steps to reduce light pollution and provide astronomy-based public education.

Bryce Canyon’s designation was primarily due to their many astronomy-related interpretive programs. As one of the first national parks to offer night sky programs – starting in 1969 in conjunction with the first moon landing – for the past 50 years, the park has focused on their evening astronomy programs, ranger-guided full moon hikes, telescope viewing programs and their annual Astronomy Festival

“Those are huge in terms of Bryce’s identity as a dark sky, and now an official dark sky park,” park spokesperson Peter Densmore told St. George News. 

Bryce Canyon joins over 100 locations that have been certified as an International Dark Sky Place. The application to do so is time-consuming, usually taking around 1-3 years to complete. 

The Milky Way galaxy over Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of the National Park Service, St. George News

The park had to make a number of changes to their lighting standards and community outreach programs to be considered, but it doesn’t stop there. The park is now required to begin the process of changing light bulbs throughout the park, installing shielding fixtures and fine-tuning their programming, all of which must be completed in the next three years. 

“We are very proud of this park’s efforts to conserve and celebrate the inspiring beauty of its night skies, and the International Dark-Sky Association’s recognition of over a decade of hard work to obtain this certification,” Bryce Superintendent Linda Mazzu, said in a press release. “As fewer and fewer people are able to enjoy natural wonders like the Milky Way, dark places and commitments to protect them are more important than ever.”

The park didn’t accomplish the designation alone. Other partners that helped make efforts to reduce their light pollution in support of the certification include the Bryce Canyon Association, Ruby’s Inn, Bryce Canyon City and the Garfield County Tourism Office. 

Stock image, St. George News

Having a dark sky certification helps to increase the visibility of a park, bringing in additional tourists and benefiting the local economy. It also gives visitors, many of whom come from places where things like the Milky Way galaxy are not visible, the chance to experience dark skies. Not only that, but it benefits nocturnal animals and plants that call the park home. 

“It’s important to have places with dark skies in part just because it’s kind of a human right,” Densmore said. “Having dark skies allows people to reflect, to come and explore the possibilities for astrophotography, to learn about astronomy, to wonder the big questions that places like our national parks give people the space to learn about and explore.” 

Other parks in Southern Utah have made efforts to become dark-sky certified. Arches National Park received the designation in July, and Rainbow Bridge National Monument was certified in Spring 2018.

Zion National Park is also currently looking into the possibility of becoming certified in the near future, Superintendent Jeff Bradybaugh said at a Springdale City Council meeting on July 10. 

To celebrate Bryce’s dark sky designation, the park is hosting a Dark-Sky Party on Aug. 31 featuring family-friendly daytime activities, night sky programs and ranger-guided telescope viewings. 

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