Most visitors go to Glacier-Waterton International Peace Park for the vistas and wildlife watching they can do during the day, but today, the pair of parks were recognized together for their exceptionally dark night skies.
Lee Rademaker says one of the best parts of his job is hearing people see the Milky Way for the first time.
“When it's become dark enough, and people's eyes have adjusted, and it kind of goes something like this: ‘Wow, I had no idea,’” he said.
Rademaker is an interpretive ranger on the east side of Glacier National Park. He runs nightly stargazing programs for tourists.
“They're used to just this sprinkling of stars, and here in Glacier they can see the milky way arching overhead, they can see color. They can see dark spots in the sky where the Milky Way is blotted out or obliterated by dust. It’s really amazing,” he said.
The park’s high quality of darkness was recognized this afternoon, as Glacier and Waterton together received provisional designation as the first trans-boundary International Dark Sky Park through the International Dark Sky Association.
“Knowing that some of the darkest skies in North America are found in this Dark Sky Park is another way for people to explore the Peace Park.”
That’s Ifan Thomas, Superintendent of Canada’s Waterton Lakes National Park, speaking at a celebration for park staff and the partners who helped shepherd this designation into reality over the past decade.
The designation recognizes steps both parks have already taken to conserve this nocturnal resource, like offering educational programming and inventorying all lighting fixtures in the park.
John Donovan sits on the board of directors of the Glacier National Park Conservancy, a park partner that has pushed for and funded much of Glacier’s night skies programming.
“At this point, dark skies have become an endangered species of themselves,” he said.
Donovan said the Conservancy is committed to funding future projects. The next step is to replace bulbs and fixtures that are not dark sky-friendly. Glacier has already swapped out 29 percent of non-compliant lights, and plans to hit 67 percent compliance within the next three years. Officials expect it will cost around $40,000.