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Twinkle, Twinkle: National Park Visitors Want Starry Views

A clear view of the night sky can be as important as trees and wildlife for visitors to America’s National Parks, a new study says.
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A clear view of the heavens can be as important as flora and fauna for visitors to America’s national parks, a new study says, and parks should cut down on light pollution as it gets harder for people to see a starry night from their own backyards.

The researchers, who published their results on Friday in the journal Park Science, found that a view of the night sky unobstructed by glare from buildings, car headlights and other sources was important to nearly 90 percent of campers interviewed at Maine’s Acadia National Park.

As it gets harder to get away from the bulbs and screens that dominate our everyday lives, people are putting a premium on access to darkness, the report says. Earlier studies have said that two-thirds of Americans can’t get a good view of the Milky Way, and that as much as 99 percent of the world’s skies have some amount of light pollution.

“It’s a typical story,” Robert Manning, a professor of environment at the University of Vermont who led the study, said in a statement. “We begin to value things as they disappear. Fortunately, darkness is a renewable resource, and we can do things to restore it in the parks.”

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Some national parks are already taking measures to make sure that the stars remain visible for parkgoers who want to escape the bustle of modern life and stare up into the inky blue. The study points to a light ordinance Acadia worked out with the community in nearby Bar Harbor, as well as Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico, where 99 percent of the park is designated a “natural darkness zone.”

Inside the park, you want to eliminate as much unnecessary light as possible,” Manning said. “Outside, the goal is to minimize light trespass. That’s more challenging, but possible.”