Sky hook: Idaho towns seek elite status for stargazing
BOISE, Idaho — Tourists heading to central Idaho will be in the dark if local officials get their way.
The first International Dark Sky Reserve in the United States would fill a chunk of the state’s sparsely populated region, which contains night skies so pristine that interstellar dust clouds are visible in the Milky Way.
“We know the night sky has inspired people for many thousands of years,” said John Barentine, program manager at the Tucson, Arizona-based International Dark-Sky
Association. “When they are in a space where they can see it, it’s often a very profound experience.”
Researchers say 80 percent of North Americans live in areas where light pollution blots out the night sky. Central Idaho contains one of the few places in the contiguous United States large enough and dark enough to attain reserve status, Barentine said. Only 11 such reserves exist in the world.
Leaders in the cities of Ketchum and Sun Valley, the tiny mountain town of Stanley, other local and federal officials, and a conservation group have been working for several years to apply this fall to designate 1,400 square miles as a reserve. A final decision by the association would come about 10 weeks after the application is submitted.
The association also designates International Dark Sky Parks, with nearly 40 in the U.S. Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve in central Idaho, known as a prime destination among avid stargazers, became one earlier this year.
“There is some astro tourism,” said Ketchum Mayor Nina Jonas, a point driven home last month when thousands descended on the town in the path of the total solar eclipse.
The proposed Idaho reserve is mainly land managed by the U.S. Forest Service and contains the wilderness of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area.