North Fork Park as a Dark Sky Park
By: Brian Nicholson
The word “dark” is the best term to describe any number of amazing things. Consider chocolate for example. Isn’t chocolate best enjoyed dark? Batman wouldn’t quite be the same without the nickname, “The Dark Knight.” And let’s be honest, “tall, well-lit and handsome” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
Quite frankly, the same is true for those gorgeous dark skies enjoyed by both residents and visitors of the enchanting Ogden Valley. In fact, North Fork Park was one of the first of many parks to be designated as a Dark-Sky Park by the International Dark-Sky Association.
The designation offers something for which Northern Utah should be proud. The park was the 21st to receive such a prestigious designation from the IDA and shares the distinction with only 64 parks worldwide. Of those parks, North Fork is the closest dark sky park to an urban center, and Utah claims more dark sky parks than any other state in the country.
“We’re really fortunate because of the Wasatch Range that it does block a large percentage of the lights,” said Ron Gleason, a dark sky enthusiast and Ogden Valley resident. “It’s a chosen lifestyle,” he said. “The ability to go out and enjoy the outdoors and enjoy them at night.”
As a volunteer, Gleason works with Weber State University physics and architecture students each spring to take annual light readings to send to the IDA, a requirement to maintain the dark sky designation. “You have to continue to show that the readings are as good or better then when you got the accreditation,” he said.
Gleason has worked closely with Weber County officials on a more robust building code for Ogden Valley to address light pollution and light trespass. Those efforts resulted in the passing of a new ordinance that went into effect in June of 2017 requiring all new construction or any remodeled buildings to comply with the dark sky requirements.
In looking at photos he and others have taken of the Milky Way galaxy, Gleason talks about the light glow from neighboring cities like Evanston, Salt Lake City and Cache Valley. “The light glow gets real strong,” he said, pointing at a few bright spots on the photo. “This is what we’re working on with the lighting ordinance to reduce the light in the valley to help reduce and eliminate the light view so people can walk outside, see the stars and view the Milky Way.”
The local IDA chapter isn’t just about writing new laws. They are actively involved in educating residents and hosting star parties a couple times per year, in the spring and in late summer or early fall, depending on the new moon.
The economic benefits of the dark skies can also not be ignored. “There are people who travel around to just to visit dark sky areas,” said Gleason. “To either look at the sky, peer through telescopes or in large part, for photography.” For example, in October of 2016, people came from across the country to celebrate Goblin Valley’s dark sky designation at a star party at the state park.
Sara Toliver, president and CEO of Visit Ogden, argues that the dark sky designation and ordinance is a huge benefit to the county. “The dark sky product we offer, in addition to our other natural resources, is quite valuable and we as Weber County have a responsibility to protect that asset,” she said. “As our world becomes increasingly more populated, it’s vital to keep these areas in our outdoor environment protected.”
According to Gleason, if a person is raised in an urban environment and never ventures outside of the metro areas of the country, they may never see The Milky Way in their lifetimes. So rather than shedding more light on the subject, it’s nice to sometimes keep things in the dark.
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