DULUTH, Minn. – Minnesota's only national park has been certified as an International Dark Sky Park "for the exceptional quality of its dark night skies and the park's commitment to preserving darkness and educating the public about this outstanding resource," the International Dark Sky Association has announced.
Voyageurs National Park joins just 135 other locations around the world that have been recognized by the nonprofit in the past two decades. While the certification carries no legal authority, it helps ensure the park will protect an often undervalued asset.
"It's one of those things that we just take for granted," park Superintendent Bob DeGross said this month. "It's just slowly whittled away without a lot of attention or fanfare or angst toward it ... until suddenly you can't see 90% of the stars in the sky."
The yearslong effort of the federal park and the nonprofit that supports it, Voyageurs Conservancy, will see that every effort is made to use lighting that has the lowest impact on the nocturnal ecosystem and that visitors and others learn the importance of darkness. Many lighting fixtures at the park will be changed and light levels will be measured annually.
"We're fortunate that we're starting off with some very dark skies," said Christina Hausman Rhode, executive director of Voyageurs Conservancy. "Getting the certification isn't a one-and-done thing. You're committing to really engaging the public in this work, too."
The park, east of International Falls along the Canadian border, joins the company of 61 other U.S. national parks, including the Grand Canyon and Joshua Tree.
"One of the biggest things is it allows us to tout one of our spectacular resources to a broader audience," DeGross said. "We have some of the darkest skies in northeastern Minnesota and the Upper Midwest. It's not something a lot of people have a chance to experience without it being hindered in some way."
The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota was awarded Dark Sky Sanctuary status in September, joining just a dozen other sites.
The Dark Sky program was founded in 2001 "to preserve and protect dark sites through responsible lighting policies and public education." The Arizona-based organization that certifies Dark Sky Places estimates about 80% of the U.S. can't view the Milky Way from where they live.
Along with the ecological and aesthetic benefits of darkness, Hausman Rhode said it preserves a culture resource relied on and cherished by longtime Indigenous residents of the region and the fur traders for whom Voyageurs National Park is named.
DeGross said other regional parks are interested in dark sky certification, including Quetico Provincial Park in Canada and Grand Portage National Monument in Minnesota.
"All the land managers in northeastern Minnesota and northwest Ontario recognize the benefit for maintaining and conserving this resource," he said. "We are very interested in being able to celebrate the fact we still have some of the darkest skies in North America."