Things may not be looking up these days for water levels at Blue Mesa Reservoir west of Gunnison, but it’s still a great place for looking up and star-gazing after the sun sets.
Curecanti National Recreation Area, which is managed by the National Park Service and encompasses Blue Mesa, Morrow Point and Crystal reservoirs, has been certified as an International Dark Sky Park, the Park Service and International Dark Sky Association said last week. Curecanti is the first National Recreation Area to receive the certification.
While drought is significantly shrinking the size of the reservoir this year, the night-sky splendors to be found at Blue Mesa and elsewhere in Curecanti remain expansive.
“There is a deep appreciation for dark skies in this community,” Curecanti Superintendent Deanna Greco said in a news release.
“The National Park Service is strongly invested in their preservation, interpretation and protection.”
The International Dark-Sky Association encourages communities, parks and protected areas to preserve and protect the nighttime environment and dark skies through environmentally responsible outdoor lighting.
The International Dark Sky Places Program was founded in 2001 to encourage communities, parks and protected areas to protect sites with dark skies through responsible lighting polices and public education.
Robust community support is required to obtain certification, and it recognizes the exceptional quality of Curecanti’s night skies and opportunities to enhance visitor experiences through astronomy-based interpretive programs, according to the new release.
Curecanti park rangers present astronomy programs at the Elk Creek campground and the Gunnison Valley Observatory, and children are encouraged to participate in the junior ranger night explorer program from home or by obtaining a booklet at the Elk Creek Visitor Center.
Curecanti is working with partners to develop future dark-sky experiences for visitors.
Partners supporting Curecanti in the certification process included the towns of Gunnison and Lake City, the Gunnison Valley Observatory, the Black Canyon Astronomical Society, Western Colorado University and the Colorado Plateau Dark Sky Cooperative.
“This designation emphasizes how special the dark skies of the Gunnison Valley are and how important it is to preserve this natural resource,” said Suzanne Taylor, president of the Gunnison Valley Observatory board of directors.
Utah’s Natural Bridges National Monument in 2007 was the first National Park Service unit to receive the dark-sky certification.
Many others now have it, including Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park near Curecanti.
Dinosaur National Monument, Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve and Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado and Arches and Canyonlands in Utah are among other park units regionally with the designation.
Norwood, Crestone, Ridgway and Nucla/Naturita are among Colorado communities that have received the designation.