Some of the most striking night skies in the nation can be found in Minnesota’s own Voyageurs National Park. On a visit to the park, one can find themselves under a blanket of stars and discover constellations from the Ojibwe star map. Dark skies are not only a scenic wonder, but necessary for our ecosystems, human health, and preservation of cultural heritage.
However, dark skies are becoming scarce as technological advances have engulfed our skies with artificial light. The New World Atlas of Artificial Night Sky Brightness states that approximately 80% of North Americans are unable to see the Milky Way due to light pollution.
As we focus on Protecting Wildlife and Wild Places this month, learn about how MEF member Voyageurs Conservancy is preserving the starry night skies of Voyageurs National Park.
The mission of Voyageurs Conservancy (formerly Voyageurs National Park Association) is to connect people to Voyageurs National Park, enhance the visitor experience, and protect the park for present and future generations. Founded in 1965, Voyageurs Conservancy is an independent charitable organization that works with the National Park Service to support recreation and conservation projects, advance education and public engagement, and protect the wild nature of the park for future generations. They do this by:
- Advocating for the park’s protection and ongoing stewardship
- Raising funds for conservation, preservation, education, and recreation projects
- Engaging volunteers and partners to bolster the park’s limited federal budget
- Growing public awareness and community engagement to build a larger community of visitors, supporters, and advocates
Impact on Voyageurs Dark Skies:
Dark skies are not only a scenic wonder, but necessary for our ecosystems, human health, and preservation of cultural heritage. But the ability to behold the majesty of the milky way is becoming increasingly scarce as technology and human development become almost ubiquitous. Light pollution has been found to alter breeding and foraging behaviors in wildlife species, affect the growth rate of trees, disrupt humans’ circadian rhythm, impacting sleep quality and immunity, and harms indigenous cultural heritage by impeding the ability to connect with the Ojibwe star map.
To ensure that the amazing night skies of Voyageurs National Park are preserved unimpaired for generations to come, Voyageurs Conservancy and the park applied for Dark Sky Park certification from the International Dark-Sky Association in 2020. This certification affirms the park commitment to using sustainable lighting and to public education to reduce light pollution and protect the night sky.
Through this initiative, Voyageurs partnered with local property owners and businesses to reduce light pollution, developed public education programs that allow visitors to further experience the park’s night skies, and helped the Park Service develop a Light Management Plan and make light fixture changes on its facilities and parking lots.
Thanks to this hard work, Voyageurs National Park was certified as an International Dark Sky Park in December of 2020, becoming one of just 80 such parks worldwide! This certification recognizes Voyageurs National Park for the exceptional quality of its dark night skies and for the park’s commitment to preserving darkness and educating the public about this outstanding resource. In addition to the changes made as part of the certification process, staff from the park and Voyageurs Conservancy will conduct annual meter readings to monitor on-going dark sky quality and continue offering educational opportunities to encourage others to minimize impacts and take simple steps to preserve our dark skies.
Help Protect the Night! No matter where you live, you can help reduce light pollution. Here are some easy-to-implement suggestions from the International Dark-Sky Association:
- Light only what you need
- Use energy efficient bulbs and only as bright as you need
- Shield lights and direct them downward
- Only use light when you need it
- Choose warm white light bulbs
- Encourage your neighbors to do the same