Sky hook: Idaho towns seek elite sta­tus for stargaz­ing

Las Vegas Review-Journal (Sunday) - - SCIENCE - By Keith Ri­dler

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.

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