Lonely Planet Writer

Idaho's dazzling starry nights set to be protected as area becomes USA's first ever dark sky reserve

North America is set to get its first “dark sky reserve” in Idaho, in an area that’s being protected for its dazzling starry nights. It’s said that on a clear evening, this region has such pristine skies that you can see intricate details of the Milky Way.

The new distinction will come from the International Dark-Sky Association, an organisation that preserves dark sites for educational or scientific purposes and for public enjoyment. According to the IDSA, this area in Idaho is one of the few remaining areas in the US that’s large enough to attain the “reserve” status. There are eleven other reserves with such a status including ones in Ireland, New Zealand, and France.

Starry night ski over Redfish Lake, Idaho
Starry night ski over Redfish Lake, Idaho Image by Getty Images/Alan V. Young

Officials in the area are working to submit the application to designate 1400 square miles as the new reserve. They will also need regular visitation by the public to meet the goals of the “dark sky places program”. This means that the location must be accessible to the public at night time, with or without supervision from officials, and must also limit light pollution from the surrounding area.

Aside from that, the designated area also needs to facilitate four events throughout the year to promote the night sky for educational purposes. This isn’t the first place to be chosen in the US as a dark sky area – Joshua Tree National Park became a Dark Sky Park back in August.

Starry night with joshua tree
Clear starry nights over Joshua Tree. Image by Getty Images/Matthew Micah Wright

The park maintains a program of education and outreach for visitors when it comes to dark skies, and has convinced neighboring jurisdictions to make improvements to their lighting systems.

According to research published by Science Magazine, 80% of the world is covered by light pollution and this is increasing by about 6% each year in North America and Europe. Singapore has the world’s most light-polluted skies, followed by Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates— whereas Africa has the dimmest skies.