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Mesa Verde Certified as an International Dark Sky Park

The center of the Milky Way sets over Point Lookout in Mesa Verde National Park. Photo by Jacob W. Frank.

The U.S. National Park Service (NPS) and the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) are pleased to announce Mesa Verde National Park has been accredited as the 100th International Dark Sky Park. This certification recognizes the exceptional quality of the park’s night skies and provides added opportunities to enhance visitor experiences through astronomy-based interpretive programming.

IDA Executive Director Ruskin Hartley reflected on reaching this important milestone. “Little did we know on the occasion of the first International Dark Sky Park designation in 2007 that in less than 15 years we would designate 100 such sites around the world,” said Hartley.

“Given the significance of today’s announcement to the history of the International Dark Sky Places Program, we are especially gratified that the newest accredited site is Mesa Verde with its rich archaeological and cultural value.”

Mesa Verde joins a growing set of 169 International Dark Sky Places in 21 countries around the world, including 37 other sites administered by the NPS. These diverse International Dark Sky Places have all followed a rigorous application process that demonstrates robust community support for dark sky certification.

“We are happy to announce our work to advance the preservation of Mesa Verde’s night skies and provide visitors opportunities to experience the wonder of starry nights,” said park Superintendent Cliff Spencer. “This recognition is the result of great work accomplished by employees of Mesa Verde National Park and the Mesa Verde Museum Association. National parks are some of the best places in America to see a breathtaking array of stars, planets, and neighboring galaxies.”

The certification demonstrates a commitment by parks to improve night skies through the use of more energy efficient, sustainable lighting. Certification also reaffirms the park’s commitment to educate the public and gateway communities about the importance of dark sky-friendly outdoor lighting and opportunities to work together toward common goals.

Mesa Verde National Park was established in 1906 to preserve and interpret the archeological heritage of the Ancestral Puebloan people who made it their home for over 700 years, from 600 to 1300 CE.

Today, the park protects over 52,000 acres and nearly 5,000 known archeological sites. Mesa Verde’s rugged and wild environment of pinyon-juniper woodlands and deep canyons is home to over 1,000 species, including several that live nowhere else on earth. Mesa Verde’s exceptionally dark skies are an important part of the cultural landscape of the park that holds special significance to Mesa Verde’s 26 affiliated tribes.

The International Dark Sky Places Program was founded in 2001 to encourage communities, parks, and protected areas around the world to preserve and protect dark sites through responsible lighting polices and public education. International Dark Sky Park certification promotes public education and astronomy-based recreation in parks while improving energy efficiency and reducing operational costs through outdoor lighting upgrades, which in turn creates economic opportunities for neighboring communities through astronomy-based tourism.

Mesa Verde’s application garnered widespread community support, including from the city of Cortez, towns of Dolores and Mancos, Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, and the Mesa Verde Country tourism bureau.

Mesa Verde National Park offers public night sky programs throughout the year and is an excellent place to learn about and enjoy the wonders of the night sky. Mesa Verde will celebrate the certification achievement with programs at the park when we are able to safely gather again.

Learn more about the International Dark Sky Places Program, here.