North Carolina is home to the first International Dark Sky Park on the Atlantic Coast

Cape Lookout National Seashore, off the coast of North Carolina, has been known as a fantastic place for stargazing over the years. Now he’s finally getting the official recognition he deserves.

Earlier this month, the National Park Service (NPS) and the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) announcement that Cape Lookout National Seashore is now certified as an International Dark Sky Park. The certification “recognizes the exceptional quality of the park’s night sky and the opportunities it provides for astronomical experiences for park visitors,” the group explains.

Interesting way, Cape Lookout National Seashore is the first international dark sky location on the Atlantic coast of the NPS to receive certification.

“This certification is both an honor for our community and a recognition of the unique values ​​that make this park a national treasure,” said Jeff West, Superintendent of Cape Lookout National Seashore. “Getting into this project helped me remember the wonder and astonishment I felt as a child. The possibilities I imagined then are still there, eclipsing the daily demands of life when put into perspective. Maybe we all need a little stargazing right now.

Ashley Wilson, Director of Conservation at IDA, said the staff at Cape Lookout National Seashore “understand and are fully engaged in Dark Sky efforts, but they also visibly demonstrate the balance between the effective use of the light and coexistence with the natural and nocturnal environment with their lighting decisions.

The need for dark skies

IDA strives “to preserve and protect the nighttime environment and our dark sky heritage through environmentally friendly outdoor lighting,” he said. Explain.

“The International Dark Sky Places program was founded in 2001 as a voluntary, non-regulatory program to encourage communities, parks and protected areas around the world to preserve and protect dark sites through effective lighting policies. , environmentally friendly outdoor lighting and public education. , IDA Explain. “When used indiscriminately, artificial light can disrupt ecosystems, impact human health, waste money and energy, contribute to climate change, and block our view and connection to the world. universe. “

A designated International Dark Sky Park has “an exceptional or distinguished starry night quality and a nighttime environment specifically protected for its scientific, natural, educational, cultural and / or public enjoyment”.

Not an easy feat to accomplish

The Cape Lookout National Seashore – which has an address in Harkers Island, North Carolina – was established in 1966. The National Seashore stretches 56 miles and includes a collection of completely undeveloped barrier islands. As you would expect, there is even a Cape Lookout Lighthouse.

Cape Lookout and its partner, the Crystal Coast Stargazers, regularly host an Astronomy Night at the Harkers Island Visitor Center to teach visitors about the constellations, spot planets in the night sky, monitor the passage of the Space Station international and even use a telescope to see objects deep in space, like other galaxies. They also give presentations to educate people about the effects of light pollution as well as how to minimize these effects.

Despite these efforts, the process to be certified as an International Dark Sky Park was rigorous. It took 2 years and required the support of Crystal Coast Stargazers, the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum and Heritage Center and the Carteret County Chamber of Commerce.

First, the process involved evaluating lighting fixtures in and around the park. Then, in some cases, the lighting fixtures had to be modernized or replaced completely, in order to meet the lighting requirements compatible with the starry sky. The final step was to create a plan to keep outdoor lighting going into the future, which will protect the park’s dark skies for generations to come.

“Partnering with Cape Lookout National Seashore in its application process was a way to give back to the park which provided so many enjoyable hours of stargazing for our club members,” said David Heflin, club coordinator for the Crystal Coast Stargazers. “Now everyone will know about the nocturnal treasure we have here on the North Carolina coast!” “

Know before you go

Cape Lookout National Seashore is obviously a great place for stargazing, but visitors can also spot wild horses and do shelling, fishing, bird watching, and camping. They can also see the Cape Lookout Lighthouse, although it is currently closed while structural repairs are underway. Plus, the park is even open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, weather permitting.

You can read more about planning a visit to Cape Lookout here.

If you love watching the night sky, be sure to read all of our stargazing coverage, including:

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