Grand Canyon is now a Dark Sky Park

Night sky at the South Entrance

The National Park Service and the International Dark-Sky Association are pleased to announce that Grand Canyon National Park has received its official International Dark Sky Park certification. To celebrate this milestone and kick off the 29th Annual Star Party, Grand Canyon National Park will hold a ceremony on the South Rim at Mather Amphitheater at 10 am on June 22. Park leadership, Grand Canyon Conservancy management, a historian from Lowell Observatory, and a representative from the International Dark-Sky Association will speak about the importance of this certification.

The International Dark Sky Park certification gives Grand Canyon National Park support to continue to grow the park’s educational programs and creates economic opportunities for neighboring communities as well through astronomy-based tourism.

The certification does not carry legal or regulatory authority; however, it demonstrates a commitment by parks to improve night skies through the use of more energy efficient, sustainable lighting. Certification also reaffirms Grand Canyon’s commitment to educate the public and gateway communities about the importance of good lighting and opportunities to work together toward common goals.

Certification Process

Certification efforts began in 2016 when Grand Canyon National Park was given Provisional International Dark Sky status after an initial inventory and assessment of over 5,000 exterior light fixtures. The provisional status gave the park three years to retrofit 67% of the light fixtures to be dark-sky compliant in order to achieve full certification. At the time, 35% of the lights were already dark-sky compliant. In late May of 2019, the park completed the retrofit process of an additional 34% of the light fixtures, bringing the total dark-sky compliant lights in the park up to 69%. The process was then reviewed and accepted by the International Dark-Sky Association, officially certifying Grand Canyon National Park as the newest International Dark Sky Park. In the coming years, the park plans on making 90% of the lights dark-sky compliant. The amount of lights inventoried and retrofitted in this process undoubtedly makes Grand Canyon National Park one of the largest, most complex, International Dark Sky Parks in the world.

The funding for this ambitious project came almost entirely from Grand Canyon Conservancy (GCC), the official non-profit partner of the park. GCC relies on donations in order to achieve long-term renovations and educational programming for the park. GCC’s current projects include preserving dark skies, renovating the park’s trails, creating a trail endowment, reimagining the Desert View Watchtower complex to focus more on giving voice to Grand Canyon’s indigenous tribes, and much more. GCC raised nearly six figures towards the International Dark Sky Park status initiative.

The three-year retrofit process was divided into three phases. Park management started phase one with retrofitting the South Rim Lodge area which is part of the Historic Village District and involved coordination with the State Historic Preservation Office. About half of the 198 lighting fixtures themselves were historic and could not be dismantled. For those fixtures, the park simply exchanged bulbs within the historic fixtures. Bulbs with a color correlated temperature (CCT) of 2400K were used for many of these fixtures. Non-historic fixtures were retrofitted with one of a few varieties of fully-shielded fixtures or simply removed. Fixtures were chosen to aesthetically compliment the era of the building to which it was affixed. Park management also coordinated with Xanterra, one of the park’s concessioners, to retrofit the light fixtures on the buildings managed by Xanterra. Xanterra hired contractors to install the retrofits; the new fixtures and bulbs were purchased by GCC.

The second and third phase of the process focused on the retrofitting of residential neighborhoods within the park as well as the Maswik Lodge, Grand Canyon School, the Recreation Center and the rest of the buildings in Historic Village District. Grand Canyon National Park is home to a large community and it is the only national park with a K-12 school. Over 1,500 fixtures were retrofitted in these areas to be dark-sky compliant. The next phases of the process will focus on the North Rim, Desert View, Phantom Ranch, and Tuweep to achieve 90% compliance.

Located in Northern Arizona, Grand Canyon National Park encompasses 277 miles (446 km) of Colorado River and adjacent uplands, and limitless views of starry skies.

For additional information on the Grand Canyon Star Party visit http://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/grand-canyon-star-party.htm or contact Rader Lane at 928-638-7641.

Images from the 2012 and 2013 Grand Canyon Star Party (South Rim) are available at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/grand_canyon_nps/sets/72157630320405928, https://www.flickr.com/photos/grand_canyon_nps/sets/72157634555278306

About the International Dark-Sky Association: IDA’s mission is to preserve and protect the nighttime environment and our heritage of dark skies through environmentally responsible outdoor lighting. Learn more at www.darksky.org.

About Grand Canyon Conservancy: Grand Canyon Conservancy (formerly Grand Canyon Association) is the official nonprofit partner of Grand Canyon National Park, raising private funds, operating retail shops within the park, and providing premier guided educational programs about the natural and cultural history of the region. Learn more at www.grandcanyon.org. -NPS

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