The Dark Sky Reserve of Central Idaho
Did you know that 80% of the world’s population – and 99% of the population in the U.S. and Europe – can no longer see the Milky Way because of light pollution? It’s estimated that 35% of all man-made light isn’t efficiently used, resulting in a waste of $3.3 billion and 21 million tons of excess carbon dioxide put into the atmosphere every year.
Fortunately, this is not the case in the Wood River Valley. Stargazing in this area is actually a popular pastime, with the Milky Way easily visible on a clear night. In fact, the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) has certified the area stretching from Ketchum to Stanley as the Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve.
What Exactly Is a Dark Sky Reserve?
A Dark Sky Reserve is a public or private area possessing a particularly clear view of the night sky. It is a nocturnal environment protected from light pollution for scientific, natural, educational, and cultural purposes, as well as public enjoyment. Each Dark Sky Reserve meets special criteria for sky quality and natural darkness, as well as a peripheral area protecting the core of the reserve.
How Does an Area Become a Dark Sky Reserve?
Dark Sky Reserves are created through the partnership of land managers who recognize the importance of reducing light pollution and keeping the night skies clear. There is a long list of requirements, but the main concern involves lighting sources. Incorporating IDA-approved light bulbs and eliminating light waste is the first step to becoming a Dark Sky Reserve. Choosing outdoor light fixtures that point downward, and only using light where absolutely necessary, are key elements of this first step.
Ketchum began the process of applying to become a Dark Sky Reserve in early 2017. The application was approved that October, and the rest of the Central Idaho Reserve was approved in December. At 1,416 square miles, it is the third-largest reserve in the world, behind the Aoraki Mackenzie Reserve in New Zealand (1,679 square miles) and Mont-Mégantic in Québec, Canada (2,308 square miles). The Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve stretches over four different counties – Blaine, Boise, Custer, and Elmore – and encompasses the entire Sawtooth National Recreation Area. It is also the only Dark Sky Reserve in the U.S.
While many popular events have been canceled during the COVID-19 pandemic and it may seem as if we’re running short of things to do, as long as we keep our lights off and the sky clear, the stars above will always be there for us to enjoy. Some of the best stargazing spots in the Wood River Valley include Knob Hill, Sun Valley Lake, Bald Mountain, and Redfish Lake.