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dark skies

The light trail of a hiker on the Hidden Lake boardwalk in Glacier National Park competes with the stars of the Milky Way and the glow from Lake McDonald visitor facilities. Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park has received special recognition for efforts to combat light pollution and improve people's ability to see night skies.

The stars shine equally on either side of the Montana-Alberta border, and now visitors to the national parks sharing that border will have a better chance to see them.

The superintendents of Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park announced their respective institutions have received the International Dark Sky Association’s “Gold Tier” designation for keeping artificial lights to a minimum in visitor areas.

“In a time when one third of the world’s population can no longer see the Milky Way, protecting this resource is essential,” Glacier Superintendent Jeff Mow said in a news release Friday. A philanthropic partnership with the Glacier National Park Conservancy has underwritten night-sky viewing and solar viewing parties for more than 30,000 visitors a year, Mow said.

To limit light pollution, each park has been updating and improving its light fixtures in parking lots, visitor centers and other electrified areas. To date, Glacier has retrofitted 29 percent of its fixtures, and has committed to updating at least 67 percent of them within three years.

Excessive artificial light impairs the ability to see starlight both by reducing the human eye’s night-vision capacity and by increasing the reflected backscatter from particles in the air. Light fixtures can be designed to put most of their illumination on the ground while limiting the amount of side-and upward glow.

“Dark night skies are a source of awe and wonder that many people cannot experience in cities and are integral to the health of nocturnal wildlife,” said Waterton Lakes National Park Superintendent Ifan Thomas. Since the program began, 15 communities, 46 parks, 11 reserves, two sanctuaries and three Dark Sky Friendly Developments of Distinction have received International Dark Sky designations. For more information about the International Dark Sky Places Program, visit darksky.org/idsp.

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Natural Resources & Environment Reporter

Natural Resources Reporter for The Missoulian.