Photo: The Milky Way over Tyler Bend. Photo: C. Littlejohn/NPS Photo.
The National Park Service announced the designation of Buffalo National River as an International Dark Sky Park Thursday. Buffalo National River, the 26th National Park Service site to receive this designation and the first in Arkansas, has some of the darkest skies in Arkansas, The Natural State.
The designation was made by the non-profit International Dark-Sky Association. IDA, the recognized authority for night sky protection, works with governments, communities, and city planners to help reduce impacts to natural night skies where possible.
The parks work to promote the protection of Buffalo National Rivers natural nighttime environment as a resource to be enjoyed by visitors is what inspired the designation. This designation does not restrict or control lighting in local communities or on private property within the park.
On June 29, the park will host a Star Party at Tyler Bend Pavilion from 8:30 until 10:30 p.m. to include an educational astronomy program and an opportunity for all visitors to observe the night sky through binoculars and telescopes. Park staff will also host weekly night sky programs this summer at Buffalo Point.
Buffalo National River Superintendent Mark Foust says, Staff has worked hard to enhance visitors opportunities to experience the wonder of a natural night sky by lowering the parks use of artificial light at night. The Buffalo River area is a destination for experiencing outstanding natural and cultural resources and the natural night sky is an essential element of those resources.
Beginning in 2016, park staff and volunteers began inventorying the parks light fixtures and bulbs. Since then Buffalo National River has been working toward reducing its light footprint by installing light bulbs that are more efficient and exterior light fixtures that point light directly downward.
Foust says, Many of the changes were easy to do and did not cost extra, but it took the insight and work of a dedicated staff and several volunteer groups to recognize what could be done and make the changes.
He says, Buffalo National River would not have been able to achieve this special status without the support of astronomical groups from across Arkansas. The park would like to thank the Arkansas Natural Sky Association, Central Arkansas Astronomical Society, North Central Arkansas Astronomical Society and the Sugar Creek Astronomical Society for their support with data collection and interpretive programming over the last two years. The expertise that these groups provided was invaluable.
For more information about programs in the park, call the Buffalo Point Ranger Station at 870-449-4311 or go to www.nps.gov/buff National Park Service .
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