Astronomical group takes steps to declare N.S. park 'dark sky preserve

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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HALIFAX - Kejimkujik National Park is known for its tea-coloured lakes and rivers, white-tailed deer and towering stands of old-growth forest.
But after the sun goes down in the park in southwestern Nova Scotia, another natural treasure begins to shine.
"Our visitors love the camping and hiking but the night sky really resonates," said Jonathan Shepherd, co-ordinator of park interpretation.
"They literally gasp at the number of stars."
A quick look at a map of Nova Scotia tells you why Kejimkujik's night sky is so pristine. Straddling Annapolis, Queens and Digby counties, the 363-square-kilometre park lies far from the urban blight of light pollution.
In fact, the night sky in this part of the province is among the darkest in southern Canada.
For casual observers, this translates into lots of stars. But dark skies are crucial for amateur astronomers who use telescopes and extremely light-sensitive cameras in search of faint galaxies and nebulae.
So it's no surprise that some teamwork is afoot between the park and the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. The society has taken steps to officially designate Kejimkujik as a dark sky preserve.
Keji fits the bill because it meets another major condition for a preserve - accessibility. The park is located beside Highway 8 and is open year-round, said Quinn Smith, a member of the astronomical society's Halifax centre.
"There's probably very dark skies in the Cape Breton Highlands, but you can't get at them, not very easily anyway," Quinn said in a recent interview.
Quinn and fellow society member Dave Chapman toured the park in the spring, as a first step in evaluating it for the dark sky designation. They met with Shepherd and other Keji staff to talk about ways to reduce the light pollution generated by the park's own lighting.
Like most street and security lighting the fixtures at Keji are unshielded. Instead of the light being directed to the ground, it's scattered upward. This is not only inefficient, it's a major cause of light pollution.
The society has recommended the park install shields on existing fixtures and replace old lights with better designed fixtures, Quinn said.
Shepherd said the park is eager to work with the society to reduce its light pollution and take other steps to achieve the designation.
"We will still have the same amount of visibility and safety for visitors," he said. "But it is being controlled so it won't affect their ability to see the night sky."
The dark sky preserve project extends the co-operation that already exists between the park and local astronomers. This summer, as part of the society's participation in the International Year of Astronomy, society members held several presentations and observing sessions at Keji.
The society has designated six dark sky preserves so far in Canada. Amateur astronomers also work with cities to create observing areas called urban star parks.
Kejimkujik plans to have a three-year plan ready by next year, as it works toward achieving the designation, Shepherd said.
He said the dark sky preserve project not only fits in well with the park's mandate of bringing people closer to nature. The work will also benefit nocturnal animals such as bats and amphibians, which depend on darkness to survive.
Quinn agreed that enjoying the beauty of the night sky is just one benefit of reducing light pollution.
"The problem is, we're losing touch with nature," he said. "Especially with all the concerns about global warming and the effect that man is having on the planet."

Organizations: Royal Astronomical Society of Canada

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, Kejimkujik National Park, Annapolis Digby Southern Canada Cape Breton Highlands Canada

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