North Fork Park receives rare Dark Sky designation

Thursday , April 16, 2015 - 3:17 PM

EDEN — In an increasingly brightly lit world, opportunities to stargaze against the backdrop of the night sky are rapidly disappearing.

But Weber County’s North Fork Park still provides that vanishing resource.

On Monday, the International Dark-Sky Association recognized the 2,740-acre county-owned area as the world’s first bronze-tier International Dark Sky Park — the second county park in the world to land this designation.

“The North Fork Park staff have worked remarkably hard to create a dark-sky-friendly environment in the park,” IDA Executive Director J. Scott Feierabend said in a recent statement. “They reached out well beyond the park’s border to successfully raise awareness about light pollution’s impact on the park’s protected resources.”

North Fork Park is conveniently tucked away on mountainside land in Ogden’s upper valley. Rep. Rob Bishop described it as a local jewel and chosen destination.

“It is good to see a Northern Utah venue included in the astro-tourism activity that continues to grow in Southern Utah as opportunities to see the dark skies diminish in urban areas,” Bishop said in a statement.

The new designation should pay off in dividends that include increased astro-tourism and continued protections for the scenic upper Ogden Valley that cradles three developing ski resorts.

“The long term benefits of being a Dark Sky Park will assure that the park continues to be the rustic refuge for so many along the Wasatch Front,” Weber County Parks Director Jennifer Graham said in a recent statement.

Eden resident Janet Muir, a member of the local IDA chapter, told the Standard-Examiner by phone Wednesday that the mountain’s natural curve shields the park from the urban glare of cities along the Wasatch Front, an area that more 2 two million people call home.

“The Wasatch Front light pollution equates to that of the Los Angeles basin,” Muir said, voicing elation over North Fork Park’s new certification. “It is the first urban-adjacent Dark Sky park in the world. It’s not Death Valley, which is relatively remote.”

According to IDA, many groups collaborated to achieve North Fork Park’s dark sky status, including Weber County Parks, the Ogden Valley Chapter of IDA, Weber State University and the Ogden Astronomical Society. The designation took years to acquire, with incremental successes that include Utah’s first county-level dark sky ordinance enacted in 2000.

In 2013, the IDA chapter met with local businesses and asked for voluntary compliance with lighting and signage ordinances. Those efforts led to several improvements and lighting retrofits.

Ogden Valley IDA also worked with Weber State students to measure North Fork’s night sky brightness.

WSU student Vincent Hanson told IDA members that at home in Massacheusetts he lacked such opportunities.

“I’m really glad that people are taking steps to preserve areas like North Fork Park so that future generations will be able to enjoy the night sky,” Hanson said in a statement.

Jeremy Bryson, assistant professor of geography at Weber, told the Standard-Examiner that he began bringing students to North Fork Park as part of his sustainable land-use planning class.

“We measured the night sky using handheld sky-quality meters,” Bryson said. Those gadgets revealed skies that could qualify for the “Dark Sky seal of approval.”

Bryson emailed those students about the new designation and said they were excited that their hard work and efforts paid off.

A celebration is planned at Weber State on Oct. 21, where Bryson hopes he and others can help raise awareness about the value of dark skies and the need to guard against light pollution that threatens to wash them out.

IDA’s International Dark Sky Places conservation program launched in 2001. Designations require stringent outdoor lighting standards coupled with innovative community outreach. To date, 10 communities, 21 parks and nine reserves have received the designations, according to IDA.

On Thursday, Capitol Reef National Park received IDA recognition as a Gold-tier International Dark Sky Park. Capitol Reef spans more than 242,000 acres of federal land in south-central Utah.

More information about the International Dark Sky Places Program can be found at: darksky.org/night-sky-conservation/dark-sky-places.

Contact reporter Cathy McKitrick at 801-625-4214 or cmckitrick@standard.net. Follow her on Twitter at @catmck.

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