Visitors learn that dark skies are important for the environment at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, the United States, Nov. 10, 2022. (Photo by Zeng Hui/Xinhua)
The National Park Service noted that “with the popularity of the star gazing program, night walks, full moon hikes and other similar park activities, natural daylight landscapes have become an economic resource “.
FLAGSTAFF, United States, Nov. 11 (Xinhua) — Championed by dark sky advocates and backed by economic incentives, cities and parks across the western United States are making strides to preserve night sky views .
Flagstaff, an Arizona city of some 80,000 people, has earned worldwide recognition for its innovative leadership in dark sky protection since the 1950s. On October 24, 2001, it was recognized as the first international sky city starred in the world.
The certification has spurred wonder, economic development and jobs as tourists visit the city, surrounded by mountains, deserts and ponderosa pine forests, and in particular Mars Hill, where astronomer Vesto Slipher discovered for the first time information on the speed of galaxies from 1912 to 1914, and Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto in 1930.
On Mars Hill, there is the Lowell Observatory. Established in 1894 and as one of the oldest observatories in the United States, it became the heart of the so-called “dark sky economy” in Flagstaff.
“This place is the most attractive place for tourists in the city,” John Walk, a narrator at the observatory, told Xinhua on Thursday. Even on a freezing night in northern Arizona with temperatures as low as minus three degrees Centigrade, more than 100 visitors took part in a stargazing tour, as the town, one mile from the observatory, has very low light pollution.
Compared to Cheyenne, Wyoming, a city of similar size, light emitted at night in Flagstaff was about 14 times dimmer while the geographic distance that light pollution affects in and around Flagstaff is also eight times smaller than that of Cheyenne.
Flagstaff has worked for many years to create light restrictions to protect their dark skies, such as making sure all city lights are aimed at the ground instead of the sky and using orange or yellow light instead of white light.
It draws about 100,000 visitors a year to the observatory currently, according to the Greater Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce, and a master project designed to build the US$29 million Astronomy Discovery Center by 2023 will host approximately 150,000 additional visitors each year, making it a prime destination for astrotourism.
A visitor takes photos at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, the United States, Nov. 10, 2022. (Photo by Zeng Hui/Xinhua)
The center will house the Universe Theater auditorium with a wrap-around screen and the Dark Sky Planetarium, a rooftop amphitheater that will use Flagstaff’s famous dark sky as a natural planetarium dome.
Tourism to the observatory and other local attractions is the lifeblood of the business community, said CEO and Chamber President Julie Pastrick, adding that the ‘dark sky economy’ is important for business area, especially restaurants and businesses that have recently fought against multi-annual minimum wage hikes.
Modeled by Flagstaff, many communities in Arizona and other western US states, such as Utah, Colorado, Nevada and California, have begun seeking a dark sky designation of the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA).
IDA, a non-profit organization, started in Arizona 30 years ago with two friends, an astronomer and a doctor. Today, it has a global network of 66 chapters and hundreds of advocates working in their own localities to preserve Dark Skies.
The National Park Service, an agency of the United States Department of the Interior that administers all national parks, is also an advocate of the dark sky movement, noting on its official website that “with the popularity of the dark sky observing program stars, night walks, full moon hikes and other such activities in parks, natural light landscapes have become an economic resource.”
“Visitor facilities in communities surrounding national parks are finding that stargazing activities attract more tourists and tend to increase the length of stay and corresponding economic benefits for these communities. A small but growing number of visitors to the park look for ‘astrotourism’ opportunities,” he said.
Utah leads the nation in dark sky advocacy, with 27 certified dark sky sites, the most of any state. The University of Utah offers a minor in dark sky studies, and last year lawmakers passed a nonbinding resolution preserving the night sky after debates creating a dark sky license plate.
Torrey, 14 miles north of Capitol Reef Nation Park, became Utah’s first international dark sky community in January 2018. It is also the first national park access community to earn the designation, according to the ‘IDA.
In the rural town of just 200 people, businesses have found ways to meet the needs of tourists keen to see the night sky, said Mickey Wright, secretary of the Torrey Dark Sky Committee, a volunteer group that helps promote the city’s dark sky initiatives.
Wright told the Salt Lake Tribune last April that an RV park in Torrey took in nine tour groups to see the dark skies in a month and guide companies in the area were all running viewing tours. stars equipped with telescopes.
Visitors are seen at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, the United States, Nov. 10, 2022. (Photo by Zeng Hui/Xinhua)
In Ely, Nevada, with a population of 4,000, the Great Basin Star Train operated by the Northern Nevada Railroad brings people from around the world to this small mining town, a remote viewing area near Great Basin National Park, an IDA International Dark Sky Park.
In 2014, the first year, two train journeys carried 127 passengers. In 2021, 47 train trips carried 2,684 passengers, according to a CBS report. And on September 21, 2021, day tickets for 2022 went on sale, the whole 2022 season sold out in one day.
According to Nevada Northern Railway President Mark Bassett, the Star Train has created two full-time positions at the railroad and generates approximately US$724,000 annually for the local economy.
Inspired by the successful efforts of many cities to improve quality of life and generate new opportunities for economic development, a vast area of south-central Colorado seeks to become the darkest region in the continental United States and the largest reservation international starry sky map of the world.
The proposed “Dark Sky Preserve” would cover land filled by the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and stretch from Poncha Pass, Colorado, north to Glorieta Pass, New Mexico, and includes 10 peaks over 14,000 feet (4,267 meters) high and two dozen over 13,000 feet (3,962 meters) in elevation.
It stretches 75 miles (121 kilometers) from north to south and 48 miles (77 kilometers) wide from east to west, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.
Several groups, including politicians, businesses, federal agencies and local communities, are joining forces to push the idea forward, and the coalition hopes to submit an application to IDA by the end of 2022. ■