Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument honored for clear night skies

Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument.

Credit: Bob Wick (BLM California), flickr.

Arizona’s Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument has been recognized as one of the best places in the country to see starry night skies.

Newly honored as “Parashant International Night Sky Province - Window to the Cosmos” by the International Dark-Sky Association, the area owes the distinction to a combination of cloud-free weather, high elevation plateaus, excellent air quality and relative seclusion from human development.

According to the monument’s manager, Pam McAlpin, the award “recognizes what visitors to the Monument have known and treasured since its inception—that the Parashant’s flawless night skies represent another portion of the impeccable, cherished, cultural and natural resources tied directly to the management of these public lands.”

“Being mindful of light pollution helps us keep the stars in plain view and maintain a truly special connection with nature,” said Phil Hanceford, assistant director of The Wilderness Society’s BLM Action Center. “As we look out into the night sky over wild and remote locations like the Parashant, we are reminded of a uniquely American idea of protecting our remaining wildest places for both current and future generations.”

Learn more about how public lands protect dark skies

Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument covers more than 1 million acres of spectacular scenery, ranging from desert to grassland to ponderosa pine forest, against the northern boundary of Grand Canyon National Park. Established by President Bill Clinton near the end of his time in office, it roughly doubled the amount of Grand Canyon land protected under the National Parks and Monuments systems, and now contains four Wilderness areas. It is considered a great spot for backpacking and nature-viewing.

Satellite view of the earth at night. Most of the U.S., especially in the east, is riddled with light. Credit: NASA.

While the award is unusual, the issue it addresses is all too common. With cities growing and outdoor lighting still largely inefficient, the scourge of light pollution has obscured the sublime wonders of the cosmos for an untold number of Americans. A surplus of light an night may even be bad for us. Only 15 places worldwide have met the requirements so far to become association-certified International Dark Sky Parks. That list now includes a handful of notable American wild places, including Death Valley National Park and Natural Bridges National Monument.

Fortunately, light pollution is increasingly acknowledged as a problem. The National Park Service included a goal of “protecting natural darkness as a precious resource and creat[ing] a model for dark sky protection” in a list of directives for the agency’s 100th anniversary in 2016, including the creation of America’s first Dark Sky Cooperative on the Colorado Plateau. Some nations and U.S. states have enacted regulations to reduce light pollution, and advocates have been working on model lighting ordinances and practical tips for using light more effectively.

Watch CBS This Morning’s report on light pollution from November 2013: