Fifth Utah State Park gets special designation promising amazing stargazing

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East Canyon, photo from darksky.org, photo by Ryan Andreasen

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – A fifth Utah State Park has received a special designation that promises amazing night sky views.

East Canyon State Park has been accredited as an International Dark Sky Park from the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) making it the fifth State Park in Utah to receive the designation and the 14th overall IDA designation in the state.

The IDA recognition means that East Canyon State Park has beautifully dark night skies that allow visitors to clearly view the Milky Way and other celestial objects. In order to be designated as an International Dark Sky Park, park staff, interns, and volunteers, had to meet the stringent programming, monitoring, and infrastructure requirements set forth by the International Dark Sky Association.

Achieving a dark sky designation is no small feat but something that Utahns can be proud of their state park officials for encouraging.

“Utah leads the world in dark sky places,” says Justina Parsons-Bernstein of Utah State Parks who has been coordinating Utah’s dark sky park initiatives. “We have got multiple parks and monuments and two communities (with dark sky designations) and we have more than anywhere in the world.”

According to Dark Sky’s website, the Dark Sky Team began measuring the quality of East Canyon’s darkness in 2016. From 2017-2019, the team worked on changing out old park lights for new dark sky-friendly fixtures. Changing the lights helped enhance the natural darkness within the park.

“Utah State Parks leads the state park systems of the United States in terms of total designations,” said IDA Executive Director Ruskin Hartley on the organization’s website. “Not only is this an important achievement for East Canyon State Park, but it is a testament to the commitment shown by Utah State Parks to elevate the importance of dark-sky protections among its constituent park units.”

The International Dark Sky Places Program was founded in 2001 to encourage communities, parks, and protected areas around the world to preserve and protect dark sites through responsible lighting polices and public education.

According to the IDA website, artificial light can be harmful to the world’s ecosystems including harm to several different animal species. IDA also says that light pollution is costing millions in energy waste around the world.

With the growing amount of dark sky designations in Utah, Parsons-Bernstein says that tourism has ‘absolutely’ increased to these areas.

“So many people tell us that they have never seen the Milky Way before,” says Parsons-Berstein. “And that is one of the greatest things is when people come and they gasp and say ‘this is the first time I have seen the Milky Way’. Some people even cry. We feel that it is another one of our natural resources that we are stewarding for the public. It is just another thing that we are so grateful to have.”

East Canyon now joins Dead Horse Point, Goblin Valley, Antelope Island, and Steinaker State Parks in obtaining official recognition for their dark skies. As of February of this year, there were over 130 certified International Dark Sky Places in the world.

Other Utah sites that are IDA recognized are the towns of Torrey and Helper and Arches and Bryce Canyon National Parks.

East Canyon will host a ticketed, socially-distanced dark sky event in early October to celebrate their dark sky designation. For more information, check the park’s event webpage in mid-September at: https://stateparks.utah.gov/parks/east-canyon/events/.

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