The dark isn’t something to be scared of at Cedar Breaks.
The national monument was recently designated as an International Dark Sky Park. The distinction recognizes Cedar Breaks for its commitment to protecting the natural darkness and providing visitors with a view the night sky free of light pollution, according to a press release.
“We are proud to welcome Cedar Breaks into the IDA Dark Sky Places family today,” IDA Executive Director J. Scott Feierabend said. “We celebrate the National Monument for the great things it continues to do in promoting the preservation of dark skies not only in the park, but also across southern Utah.”
This is the seventh park in Utah to receive the recognition and the 16th nationwide. It is the first in the southern portion of the state. Utah now has more International Dark Sky Parks that any other state.
“We’re excited because we think it will raise awareness about Cedar Breaks as a nation for people to come see the night sky,” Zach Schierl, Education Specialist & Dark Skies Coordinator for Cedar Breaks, said. “People have been coming to Utah from around the world to see the night sky. We’re really becoming a destination to see the night sky.”
The International Dark-Sky Association, an Arizona based nonprofit working to fight light pollution, selected Cedar Breaks following a review of satellite data and light measurements at the park.
Schierl explained that dark sky parks must meet three different requirements based on education, light pollution and protection of dark skies to receive the designation.
They began focusing on education with the launch of the ranger lead astronomy programs in 2009, which Schierl said have grown significantly in size over the years.
“One of the main things you have to is to commit to is educating park visitors and local communities about the importance of protecting dark night skies,” he said.
Additionally, all lighting sources within the monument have been adapted to be more dark sky friendly. Each light has been retrofitted to be aimed at the ground to provide just enough light to meet safety and security requirements without interfering with the natural night sky.
The third criterion, which is to have dark skies where stars are easily visible, was a bit easier to accomplish considering the monument is 30 minutes away from a major city.
Maria Twitchell, director of the Cedar City-Brian Head Tourism Bureau, noted that the honor will help promote Iron County as a major destination for tourists hoping to enjoy the night sky unmarred by manmade lighting.
“Astro-tourism is a rapidly growing tourism trend and we created an initiative to promote our dark sky resources as a viable destination attraction,” Twitchell said. “Stargazers buy merchandise, stay and lodging and eat in our local restaurants and so we anticipate this designation will create a significant economic boost for our county.”
Approximately 900,000 people visited Cedar Breaks National Monument in 2016 – an 18 percent increase from the previous year, according to statistics provided by the tourism bureau.
Cedar Breaks will be celebrating the designation with a public star party from 7 to 10 p.m. on March 18 at Brian Head Resort. The free event will include a short talk on the dark skies philosophy, a telescope viewing, night sky stories and kid-friendly activities.
Follow reporter Bree Burkitt, @BreeBurkitt. Call her at 435-218-2241.
If you go…
What: Cedar Breaks Dark Sky Party
When: March 18, 7-10 p.m.
Where: Navajo Lodge at Brian Head Resort, 329 South Highway 143