Two more Utah state parks receive dark sky designations

The list of internationally certified stargazing locations in Utah keeps growing.

Two more state parks, Fremont Indian in Sevier County and Goosenecks near Mexican Hat, have been given International Dark Sky Park designations by the International Dark Sky Association.

Jordanelle, Kodachrome Basin and Rockport state parks received the same title in January. A total of 10 Utah state parks now have dark sky designations. Including national parks, Utah is home to 23 dark sky places out of a list of 95 around the world.

Goosenecks State Park is known for its unique geological features — especially its “gooseneck” canyons — but its starry skies are starting to rival them as a visitor attraction, according to a state parks news release. Fremont Indian State Park’s dark skies are protected by the canyon walls and mountains that surround it.

In order to receive the designation, parks must submit submit applications with photos of the night sky and light pollution maps, according to state park Dark Sky Initiative Coordinator Justina Parsons-Bernstein. The parks also have to host educational events about dark skies.

What’s all the fuss about when it comes to skies being dark?

For one thing, Utah’s starry skies are a tourist draw. Astrotourism is taking off across the state, said David Kieda, an astronomer and co-director of the University of Utah’s Consortium for Dark Sky Studies, City & Metropolitan Planning, in January.

He said dark skies are also important for human health. He said there is evidence that living in bright areas causes health problems associated with the loss of circadian rhythm.

Kieda said people have a natural affinity for night skies.

“We like to look up and wonder where [we] are and where [we] came from and where we’re going,” he said.