Oracle State Park might soon be known for its dark nights and starry skies as well as its sunny days and scenic landscapes.
The park near Oracle is pursuing designation as an “International Dark Sky Park.”
The designation would come from the International Dark-Sky Association, which chooses sites that have “exceptional starry skies and natural nocturnal habitat where light pollution is mitigated and natural darkness is valuable as an important educational, cultural, scenic and natural resource.”
“Oracle State Park is ‘behind’ the mountain from the city of Tucson, so it can provide a look at the night skies without a lot of light pollution — and that’s a really wonderful thing,” said Ellen Bilbrey, spokeswoman for Arizona State Parks. “It’s also exciting because this would be the first Arizona state park to get dark-skies designation.”
Arizona State Parks, the Friends of Oracle State Park, and the recently formed Oracle Dark Skies Committee are collaborating to produce a proposal for the Tucson-based Dark-Sky Association.
Among 16 parks that have been awarded Dark-Sky status by the association are Big Bend National Park in Texas, Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico, Galloway Forest Park in Scotland and Eifel National Park in Germany.
The Oracle Dark Skies Committee is working with area residents, business owners and government offices to reduce or eliminate light pollution in the Oracle Park area — the key factor in winning the association’s highest, or “gold,” designation.
“There are several things that have to happen for the designation,” said committee chairman Mike Weasner. “It involves documenting the type of park, the history, and also the sky quality of the park — how dark it is at night, how many lights are visible and things like that.”
Weasner said the committee has done lighting inventories and is now doing sky-quality measurements using a specially designed light meter to measure the degree of darkness.
“We’ve gone out to businesses and residences with lighting that is unshielded, and we’re talking with these folks about limiting light,” he said. “The more lights we can get turned off at night or aimed downward, the more it will help us get to that gold level” of designation.
Plans call for presenting the proposal to the Dark-Sky Association by the end of July, Weasner said.
STAR PARTIES PLANNED
Special nighttime events at the park such as “star parties” and telescope viewing events will allow the public is to take advantage of dark skies there.
Such events will be necessary because the 4,000-acre park is normally closed at night. It’s open to the public only from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays year-round.
The park was closed by budget cuts in 2009, but state parks revenue and volunteer work by the Friends group brought about a limited reopening, said Bryan Martyn, State Parks executive director. At first it was open only on Saturdays some months of the year, with hours gradually increasing to the current status of full weekends year-round. It’s closed to the public on weekdays.
The first of the star parties is scheduled for June 21 with extended park hours. A music program begins at 6 p.m. followed by an 8 p.m. star party with telescope viewing. Normal park admission fees of $7 per vehicle will be in effect.