Reclaiming the Stars
How Utah’s State Parks Are Bringing Back the Stars for All To Enjoy
“What a privilege it is to frolic with goblins under the beguiling light of a billion stars,” Justina Parsons-Bernstein wrote in her journal during a stargazing party at Goblin Valley State Park.
The recreation interpretation resource manager for Utah State Parks was basking in the light show with more than 100 astro-tourists for a very special occasion. The park was celebrating its designation as an International Dark Sky Park. That’s to say that the park has taken, and will continue to take, measures to protect the night sky for present and future generations, earning a virtual seal of approval from the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA).
Parsons-Bernstein, along with a slew of interns and state park managers, have guided many Utah state parks through the application and accreditation process. The state now has the highest concentration of International Dark-Sky Association-certified locations, including communities, parks and protected areas (Read: Utah After Dark). It’s a testament that Utah’s state parks are reclaiming the stars for its residents and visitors through the Utah State Parks Dark Sky Initiative.
The stars are big business, as well. A recent survey found that during the next decade visits to the Colorado Plateau are expected to pump $2.5 billion into rural economies. Dark skies are a value-added experience that create demand for recreation-based tourism. (Read: How to Stargaze in Utah)
"Utah’s public lands are beautiful and dramatic during the day, but they might well become famous for how awe-inspiring they are during the night."
Imagine you and your loved ones wrapped in blankets on a crisp, clear night. You are talking for hours beyond your normal bedtime, and why? Well, more than 5,000 stars can be seen, and they captivate you.
Indeed, Utah’s public lands are beautiful and dramatic during the day, but they might well become famous for how awe-inspiring they are during the night.
To become an International Dark Sky Park, according to darksky.org, a park must “demonstrate robust community support for dark sky protection and document designation-specific program requirements.” The Dark Sky certification process may be arduous but the reward of designation is well worth it.
“Basically, what it boils down to is that we are wasting a lot of light by pointing it to the sky, and we need to change that,” Parsons-Bernstein says. A seemingly little change to downward-facing light fixtures and bulbs with the proper lumens and wattage – which also reduces light pollution – and bring back the stars for all to enjoy.
On one sunny afternoon, the rangers at Jordanelle State Park change out light fixtures at the employee residences. Jordanelle boasts many buildings, so the rangers will be tasked with installing new lighting over the course of the summer. Some pollution is irreparable, but Parsons-Bernstein says, luckily, light pollution is a pretty easy fix. “Plus, these fixtures will save money and energy,” she adds.
"Astro-tourists are coming to Utah from all over the world, because they want to be out in the pristine darkness and see the Milky Way for themselves."
– Justina Parsons-Bernstein
Parsons-Bernstein remembers when, as a child, she could see the Milky Way from her backyard in Ogden, Utah. An ever-growing population and a minimal emphasis on the effects of light pollution in the decades since, and 74-percent of people around the world cannot see the Milky Way — especially those in urban centers.
“If people can’t see the stars, they will go and find them,” Parsons-Bernstein says. “These astro-tourists are coming to Utah from all over the world, because they want to be out in the pristine darkness and see the Milky Way for themselves.” (Read: Seeking Starry Skies Near Salt Lake City)
At Utah’s abundant public lands, there’s a perfect recipe for dark sky viewing: high altitude, dry weather, low population and distance from urban growth.
“A lot of the world lives in perpetual twilight,” Parsons-Bernstein says. “Our dark sky parks are becoming the last places where you will actually be able to see dark skies, and Utah is lucky that we are really able to see a lot. It’s the mecca of stargazing.”
Find out more information about Utah State Parks Dark Sky Initiative and view a full list of Utah's IDA-accredited Dark Sky Parks and Communities.
Stars by the City
Fill your days with adventure and your nights with stargazing by following this six-day itinerary from Salt Lake City through the International Dark Sky Places in Northern Utah.
- Timpanogos Cave National Monument
- East Canyon State Park
- Jordanelle State Park
- Rockport State Park
- Antelope Island State Park
- North Fork Park
A Closer Look at North Fork Park
Welcome to North Fork Park, one of Utah’s multiple International Dark Sky Parks, just minutes from downtown Ogden. While it is best known for its stunning scenery where hikers and Nordic skiers can meander the trails swirling through the mountainous Ogden Valley, its biggest attraction lies in the voluminous sky directly above.
A Party of Astronomic Proportions
Every Saturday from May through Labor Day weekend, weather dependent, crowds ranging from 100 to 500 people gather at Cedar Break’s main overlook, Point Supreme, to gaze up at the region’s amazing dark skies and explore the stars and the planets that make up the solar system.
Dark Skies in Capitol Reef National Park
Capitol Reef National Park in Utah is a designated International Dark Sky Park. Make plans to come see the most magnificent night sky ever!
Discover Dinosaur Astronomy
Dinosaur National Monument's celebrated dark skies can offer some of the most inspirational looks into our universe given the monument's unique context: see the stars on an unblemished canvas like our human — or dinosaur — predecessors did.
Find a Winter Refresh in a Utah State Park
The best Utah state parks will entice you with ice fishing, white sand and snow-dusted scenery. Take a winter break to refresh with a visit to a few of these places.
How to Stargaze in Utah
Tips on what to pack and when and where to go stargazing in Utah.
Looking Up: Dark Skies of Heber Valley
A trio of state parks in Heber Valley offer stellar views of the Utah night sky. Come stargaze here.
Ogden's Star is Rising: Downtown to Dark Skies
Ogden is a hub for world-class skiing, hiking, biking, camping and fun water sports that, in turn, has brought chefs, artists, craftsmen and entrepreneurs to feed the body as well as spirit.
Seeking Starry Skies Near Salt Lake City
You don’t have to go far from the city to find dark skies filled with stars in Utah. Find out where you can see the Milky Way near the city or gaze into space from an observatory in Northern Utah.
State Park Stargazing: Interacting With the Galaxy in Real Time
Northern Utah's Camp Floyd State Park offers more than history to those who stick around after dark. With intense dark skies blanketing the atmosphere, stargazers of all ages gather to interact with the galaxy above.
The World's First Dark Sky Park
On March 6, 2007, Natural Bridges National Monument became the first International Dark Sky Park certified by the International Dark-Sky Association. More than 100,000 people visit Natural Bridges each year to check out the stunning bridges and hike in cool canyons, but only a handful of them stay through the night to see the area’s most amazing and unique feature: dark skies and glistening, bright stars.
Tips for Astrophotography
Need tips on how to take pictures of stars? Utah is the perfect location to put tips from an award-winning photographer into action.
Where to Find the Darkest Skies in Central Utah
A tapestry of thousands of stars awaits visitors to Helper and Price where conditions are some of the best for exploring the night sky.