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Palos Preserves Named the World’s Largest Urban Night Sky Place

Image depicting the Urban Night Sky Place at night overlooking Maple Lake.
Maple Lake Vista within the Palos Preserves basking underneath a starry sky. Photo credit: Joe Occhiuzzo.

CHICAGO, Illinois, USA — The Forest Preserves of Cook County’s Palos Preserves, in partnership with the Adler Planetarium, is now designated as the largest Urban Night Sky Place in the world by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA). The Palos Preserves, historically known as Mt. Forest Island, is part of the largest area of protected natural land in Cook County, encompassing 6,662 acres. The Urban Night Sky Place houses only four buildings, and as a result of the low use of artificial lighting, satellite radiance data show that the Palos Preserves emits nearly 1,000 times less light than downtown Chicago. The Adler Planetarium also measured about four times more stars that are visible in the night sky over the site than in the City of Chicago. 

“People know the Palos Preserves for its extensive trail system and the natural wonder of the hills, bluffs, woodlands, and wetlands. I’m pleased that with this Urban Night Sky designation, the site is also recognized as a location that preserves the night. The many species of plants, insects, birds, and other animals that call the Palos Preserves home benefit from the absence of disturbing artificial lighting,” said Arnold Randall, the general superintendent of the Forest Preserves.

As part of the partnership with the Forest Preserves, the Adler Planetarium was instrumental in several aspects when aiding the site’s ambition for applying as an Urban Night Sky Place. One prime example is the Adler worked with teens in its Far Horizons Stratonauts program last summer to use specially designed cameras that were built by students and volunteers to monitor night sky quality in the region. The Adler also provided guidance in the lighting management plan, which resulted in reduced light levels at the Preserves’ buildings and parking lots by using a combination of timers, shielding, and dark-sky friendly LED fixtures.

“For the entire history of life on Earth, dark nights followed sunlit days. In a little more than a century we’ve altered that natural pattern by illuminating our nights. Living in and around Chicago we’ve grown accustomed to always having bright lights in view. The chance of experiencing a natural, dark night — as it was for eons — is now too rare. It’s difficult to express the peaceful, natural beauty one can experience within the Palos Preserves’ pristine nights. This designation is a recognition of the value it offers to everyone in the region,” said Ken Walczak, Senior Manager for Far Horizons at Adler Planetarium.

“The Forest Preserves’ commitment to understanding the principles of responsible outdoor lighting, engaging in community outreach, and providing access to this natural resource for the residents of the Chicago area all serve as commendable examples of what UNSPs can offer,” stated Ruskin Hartley, Executive Director of IDA. 

The Forest Preserves and Adler Planetarium will continue to partner in the Palos Preserves around the Urban Night Sky Place, particularly for fun and educational programs and events like stargazing nights, night hikes, owling, and light pollution awareness programs. Forest Preserves sites are closed at dusk, so visitors who want to enjoy the night at this Urban Night Sky Place should keep an eye out for the Preserves’ guided nighttime programming in Palos Preserves.


Media Inquiries
Ashley Wilson, Dark Sky Places Program Manager
[email protected]
+1 520-347-5804