Colorado’s Mesa Verde National Park has been designated an International Dark Sky Park, making it the 100th location to receive this honor.
Designation as a Dark Sky Park is a recognition from both the National Park Service and the International Dark-Sky Association of a park’s high-quality views of night skies. This recognition helps the park instigate new astronomy education resources for visitors and improves the quality of its already grand night sky viewing.
“This recognition is the result of great work accomplished by employees of Mesa Verde National Park and the Mesa Verde Museum Association,” Park Superintendent Cliff Spencer said in a statement. “National parks are some of the best places in America to see a breathtaking array of stars, planets, and neighboring galaxies.”
Founded in 2001, the International Dark Sky Places Program advocates for the protection and preservation of dark sites and their nighttime environments through two methods: public education initiatives and environmentally conscious lighting practices.
Certification as an International Dark Sky Park, while not representative of any actual legal authority, is a meaningful commitment from the park to improve the views of the night sky through sustainable lighting practices and to implement community education programs.
There are high standards to meet in order to receive a Dark Sky Park designation. Mesa Verde’s multiyear application process involved “light pollution surveys, light source inventory, reducing outdoor lighting, and upgrading essential outdoor lighting with energy-efficient bulbs.”
This lengthy process was only completed because of the incredible passion and commitment from both Mesa Verde National Park and the International Dark Sky Association. The certification also benefited from local support and community advocates, including the city of Cortez, the towns of Dolores and Mancos, the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, and the Mesa Verde Country tourism bureau.
“Given the significance of today’s announcement to the history of the International Dark Sky Places Program, we are especially gratified that the newest accredited site is Mesa Verde with its rich archaeological and cultural value,” International Dark Sky Executive Director Ruskin Hartley said in a statement.
Mesa Verde, in addition to its wonderful views of the sky, is home to 5,000 archeological sites. The park was established in 1906 in order to protect the archeological heritage left behind by the Ancestral Pueblo people, who once the land home from 600 to 1300 A.D.
Located in southwest Colorado, the park is made up of 52,000 acres, houses more than 1,000 different species, and holds significance for Mesa Verde’s 26 affiliated Native American tribes.
Mesa Verde National Park hosts night sky programs open to the public throughout the year, allowing visitors chances to view the spectacular sky and learn from the park’s education center. Once the park deems it safe to host larger gatherings, Mesa Verde will run park programs celebrating its new classification.
As the 100th park to receive this designation, Mesa Verde is by no means the only place that offers this kind of quality night sky viewing. Other notable locations with the coveted International Dark Sky Park classification include Utah’s Arches National Park, California’s Joshua Tree National Park, and Pennsylvania’s Cherry Springs State Park. You can also get inspired by all our stargazing content here.