Pack your cameras: Town in Idaho dubbed United States’ first Dark Sky Reserve

Stars are beautiful. That’s something everyone can agree on but with how bad light pollution tends to be in the city, many of us only see a few stars at a time. Seeing what the sky really looks like at night involves a bit of traveling. For anyone looking for the best night sky in the United States, the International Dark-Sky Association has designated a piece of central Idaho as our nation’s first (and only) Dark Sky Reserve.

The Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve spans more than 1,400 square miles in the Sawtooth Mountains, stretching from Ketchum to Stanly, and is one of just 12 such reserves in the world. This reserve is the culmination of nearly two decades of work and policy changes by local leaders, residents, and business leaders to reduce light pollution in the region. Also granted by the IDA was its “Gold Tier” status, the highest level of a system that ranks the quality of the night sky.

Nearly 80 percent of the United States’ population lives in cities and metropolitan areas. The urban light pollution from these areas not only distorts views of the stars and planets, it also impacts the local nocturnal environment.

“The Dark Sky Reserve is a perfect fit for the Sawtooth NRA, as it supports our enabling legislation, which in part mandates the Forest Service to protect and preserve the natural and scenic qualities of the area,” said Kirk Flannigan, Area Ranger of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area.

Getting an area designated by the IDA seems easier than it actually is. It requires public and private lands to maintain an exceptional or distinguished quality of night sky, view of the stars, and nocturnal environment. Reserves can also only be formed through a partnership of multiple land managers who have shown they recognize the value of a quality nighttime environment. This is done through years of regulation and long-term planning.

The best part about viewing the night sky and its stars is seeing just how bright it actually is. For anyone booking a flight to Idaho, make sure you understand a few great tips to take stunning night images. There are some photographers who craft their entire career around it.

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