100-Mile Wilderness Designated International Dark Sky Park
The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) recently designated the Appalachian Mountain Club’s (AMC) Maine Woods property an International Dark Sky Park. The 75,000-acre property lies within the 100-Mile Wilderness and includes part of the Appalachian Trail corridor.
The park is the first of its kind in New England, the nearest being Cherry Springs State Park in Pennsylvania. It is the second Dark Sky Park along the AT, following northern Virginia’s recently-designated Sky Meadows State Park. Maine Woods joins nearby Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument as an International Dark Sky Place, although the latter is designated a sanctuary rather than a park due to its comparative remoteness.
Keeping Skies Dark in Maine Woods
The North Maine Woods has one of the darkest night skies of anywhere on the US East Coast. Stretching from Monson, ME to the Canadian border, anyone who spends time in the area can attest to the other-worldly stargazing that comes with such a lack of light pollution.
On the edge of this expanse of uninhabited forest sits the AMC’s Maine Woods property, the newest International Dark Sky Park. The recent designation serves as a form of recognition for the area’s exceptional nighttime darkness as well as a commitment from the AMC to incorporate the preservation of the night sky into its conservation efforts.
According to IDA, the North Maine Woods is an area of “exceptionally high habitat connectivity and climate change resilience.” However, much of the North Maine Woods is owned by timber companies and is under threat of development.
“While the AMC North Maine Woods region retains its rugged character defined by the enormity of the forest here, it stands on the advancing edge of development that brings with it the end of the dark night sky,” said Steve Tatko, AMC Director of Maine Conservation and Dark Sky Park Superintendent. “I see this designation as a way for the people of this area to re-envision the immense importance of this forest in a way that makes tangible the intrinsic beauty of the night sky we all cherish.”
Why is Nighttime Darkness Important?
The IDA considers dark skies a natural resource. One that, if preserved properly, can contribute to climate change resilience, improve human health, and can even create new opportunities for education-based tourism. Artificial light from cities, housing, developments, and even small towns, has a drastic impact on the natural world, especially for nocturnal animals.
To meet the IDA’s qualifications for Dark Sky Park status, sites must be ecologically protected but publicly accessible and have very little light pollution (equal to or darker than 21.2 magnitudes per square arc-second). By recognizing the significance of nighttime darkness through International Dark Sky Park designations, the IDA hopes to encourage communities, parks, and protected areas to preserve and protect dark skies.
Dark Skies Ahead for AMC’s Maine Woods
Part of the International Dark Sky Park designation is a commitment from AMC to continue its astronomy programming with park visitors and to regularly monitor and report nighttime sky quality.
In partnership with Mountains of Stars, an astronomy-based education and outreach program, AMC plans to engage park visitors in citizen science to measure and report nighttime sky quality. Next time you visit the AMC’s Maine Woods, take in the beauty of the night sky by participating in an astronomy program, or just look up for some unbeatable stargazing from your tent.
Featured image via Appalachian Mountain Club.
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