Home to over 2,000 natural sandstone arches in Utah, Arches National Park applied for recognition from the International Dark-Sky Association and received the association’s “Silver Tier” designation in 2019 thanks to its commitment to preserving the natural sky and educating the public about the benefits of reducing light pollution.
First designated a national monument in 1929, Congress declared Arches a national park on November 12, 1971. Arches National Park is one of the “Mighty 5” national parks of Utah, and in 2019, the International Dark-Sky Associated recognized the park’s work toward reducing light pollution within and outside of the park with its Silver Tier designation. (The Silver Tier is given when light glow is present along the horizon to a degree that wildlife and astronomy are impacted, but the Milky Way Galaxy can still be seen in summer and winter with over six thousand stars visible to the naked eye.)
In 1999, a study of 376 parks discovered that half of all National Parks, 189 in total, were threatened by light pollution from encroaching cities. The National Park Service responded by forming the Night Sky Team to document the negative effects of light pollution with 104 photos taken in a short duration. Every photo was stitched together to form a wider picture, and then the Night Sky Team erased the light generated by stars to focus on how artificial lighting impacted the park. Arches National Park in 2003 had significant light pollution from Moab, Utah, and Grand Junction, Colorado, so the park created outdoor lighting codes with training workshops to reduce light pollution, intending to keep visitors safe while minimizing harm to wildlife.
Arches National Park’s lighting codes implement several strategies for reducing light pollution and preserving a clear night sky as a culture heritage. First, Arches’ lights use motion sensors to provide visitors with light when they need it without leaving any running constantly. Second, Arches’ outdoor light fixtures are shielded with hoods and point toward the ground. Third, Arches National Park uses warm-colored light, as blue-colored light negatively impacts insects while amber lighting minimizes sky brightness while still providing visibility to guests. Fourth, Arches encourages nearby cities and households to plan outdoor lighting efficiently and use high quality lights. This includes striving to minimize nighttime lighting and only using what is strictly necessary for public safety. Close to 100% of all exterior lights throughout the 119-square-mile park are night-sky friendly in accordance with Arches’ principles.
The value Arches National Park places on its dark skies is not limited to lighting codes and stargazing within the park. Educational outreach programs have been created, like the Night Sky Ranger booklet that teaches children about astronomy and light pollution through stargazing and moon phase observation activities. Preservation can maintain the dark skies, but education about the value of dark skies is what will break through the night blindness created by brightly lit societies.