Waterton-Glacier receives dark sky designation

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The Milky Way glows above Ole Lake in Glacier National Park.

Look up in the skies on a dark, clear night in Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park and you値l likely see more stars than you ever have in your entire life.

Now, both parks are taking steps to make that view even better.

Last week both parks announced that they had achieved provisional Gold Tier designation as an International Dark Sky Park through the International Dark Sky Association.

It is the first transboundary Dark Sky Park in the world.

的t痴 a universal resource for all of humanity, Waterton Superintendent Ifan Thomas said.

But there痴 still work to do. With financial support from the Glacier National Park Conservancy, Glacier, over the next three years, will look to make its more than 2,000 light fixtures dark-sky compliant.

Compliant lights shine the light downward and use low-wattage bulbs. Waterton has a similar task at hand as it has a village inside its park, with 117 streetlights and host of other wayward bulbs.

The parks have to reach 67 percent compliance in the next three years to have permanent designation. The effort in Glacier is expected to cost about $150,000 and will be the showcase fundraiser for the Conservancy at its Backpackers Ball this summer, noted board member John Donovan.

Right now, about a third of Glacier痴 light fixtures are compliant.

Even so, the star views in both parks are world class. Star views are measured by a sky quality monitor. A perfect score is 22. Glacier痴 skies range between 21.25 to 21.81, while Waterton in town rates a 21.16 and further out, near Cameron Lake, it痴 21.58.

Intern Iree Wheeler coordinated with Park staff and volunteers to take the dark sky measurements and inventory all the artificial lights in the Park. Wheeler worked closely with east side interpretative ranger Mark Wagner, who is equally passionate about Glacier痴 starry skies.

All told, both parks have been working on improving their dark skies for the past 10 years. They both hold star-gazing events on clear nights. Last year, Glacier hosted about 30,000 visitors in its star programs and Waterton had hundreds.

Recent studies suggest that upwards of one-third of the world痴 population is unable to see the Milky Way due to light pollution around populated areas.

Dark skies are integral not only for human health and enjoyment, but play an essential role in wildlife health, Park biologists note.

Unnatural light can disrupt migration and other natural processes, putting wildlife at risk. Night skies are also important culturally, and are prominently featured in regional tribal creation stories.

Glacier痴 night sky programs are the most popular in the Park, with some Logan Pass star party programs attracting upwards of 700 participants to a single event.

As part of the Dark Sky Park application, the City of Columbia Falls, the City of Whitefish, the Waterton Natural History Association, the University of Redlands, and members of the Big Sky Astronomy Club wrote letters of support.

Both parks celebrated the designation last week with a host of speakers.

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