Guest editorial: Maintaining dark skies is a critical initiative for Utah’s state parks, residents | ParkRecord.com

Guest editorial: Maintaining dark skies is a critical initiative for Utah’s state parks, residents

Laurie Backus
Jordanelle State Park manager

We are fortunate in Wasatch and Summit counties as we can see most constellations and planets in the sky, but we are starting to lose the deep space and more faint stars. Natural dark sky areas are decreasing across the United States and around the world due to growth of light pollution. Light pollution is caused by artificial light. Specifically, light trespass (where light is falling where it is not intended, wanted, or needed), glare (visual discomfort from excessive brightness), clutter (bright, confusing and excessive groupings of lights), and urban sky glow (the brightening of the night sky from artificial lights over inhabited areas). Utah State Parks have some of the darkest night skies in North America. Utah State Parks are ideal for stargazing due to high elevations (less ozone and fewer particles between you and the stars), dry climate (less moisture in the air to look through), and shields (mountains and cliffs shield dark sky areas from urban sky glow).

Many people in the larger cities have never seen the Milky Way or a shooting star. An ever-increasing number of visitors appreciate and seek out the pristine night skies and after-dark programs. Several Utah State Park employees are taking initiative to protect and enhance our dark sky resource. Many Utah State Parks have entered into the International Dark Sky Park designation process. Dead Horse Point State Park and Goblin Valley State Park received this distinguished designation during the summer of 2016; followed by Antelope Island State Park in the spring of 2017, and Steinaker State Park on January 2018. That's not the end of the road though. There are plenty of additional parks who are looking to become designated as well. East Canyon State Park, Rockport State Park, Wasatch Mountain State Park, Jordanelle State Park, Deer Creek State Park, Red Fleet State Park, Fremont Indian State Park, Quail Creek State Park, Gunlock State Park and Goosenecks State Park are slated to submit their International Dark Sky Park applications in 2018.

Dark skies have many benefits. Exposure to artificial light at night can harm your health. Research suggests that artificial light at night can increase risks for obesity, depression, sleep disorders, diabetes, breast cancer, and more. Like most life on Earth, humans adhere to a circadian rhythm — our biological clock — a sleep-wake pattern governed by the day-night cycle. Artificial light at night can disrupt that cycle. Our bodies produce the hormone melatonin in response to circadian rhythm. Melatonin helps keep us healthy. It has antioxidant properties, induces sleep, boosts the immune system, lowers cholesterol, and helps the functioning of the thyroid, pancreas, ovaries, testes, and adrenal glands. Nighttime exposure to artificial light suppresses melatonin production. (Reference: http://www.darksky.org). Not only is there a human health element, there is a wildlife one too. Wild areas need true darkness. An animal's ability to forage, hunt, migrate, and sleep relies on the rhythm of daylight and natural darkness. Dark sky friendly lighting helps our wild area stay dark.

Utah State Parks has several resources available to the public. Fun and interesting night sky programs are available at several of our parks. Also available is a Dark Sky Manual for Homeowners that gives you information on how to make your home more dark sky friendly. Get out and see the celestial wonders at one of our parks soon! Go to stateparks.utah.gov for more information.