Half the Park Happens After Dark

This project is fully funded thanks to donors at Backpacker's Ball.

Glacier National Park is now the first transboundary dark sky park in conjunction with Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada. This designation  demands  cooperation  as  well as a commitment to protecting and improving the night sky in these two parks. Educating visitors about the importance of the dark sky is also a required element of dark sky park status, and a key to spreading the word about Glacier’s special night skies and why they are important to protect for future generations.

Visitors and wildlife both benefit from a truly dark sky and to be able to experience the kind of darkness under which humans evolved as a species. While this program has focused on telescopic observations of deep sky objects and planets, there is now also education covering a bigger-picture view of the night sky, the important emotional connections it provides, and the need to protect the dark sky experience as a cultural activity enjoyed by humans since we began asking questions about the world around us. Glacier’s very dark sky provides a huge impact for visitors from more polluted environments and encourages them to care about the sky where they live.

This project  will provide  support  for  one  of  the  most popular interpretive programs at Glacier National Park – an opportunity to look through a telescope at the wonders of the night sky (and our sun during the day) and to learn about why dark nights are important – not only to view wonderful celestial objects, but as critical periods for many animal and plant species, and directly connected to human health and well-being.

Programs are provided five days per week at Apgar and St. Mary. The park also hosts star parties at Logan Pass with the help of the Big Sky Astronomy Club. This request also provides support for the first full season of operation for a new observatory at St. Mary, funded through the Glacier Conservancy in 2016. More advanced programming as well as educational outreach will be provided at this new facility.

Programming at St. Mary will also provide a bridge between a western scientific perspective and Blackfeet cultural interpretations of the night sky. This part of the program will be coordinated with the Conservancy-funded Tribal Outreach Program. A stronger focus will be placed on the value of the recent designation as Waterton-Glacier International Dark Sky Park and the many values associated with preserving pristine dark skies.

Photo: Harun Mehmedinovic & Gavin Heffernan