The U.S. Just Got a New Dark Sky Park

Merritt Reservoir State Recreation Area in Nebraska is the 200th International Dark Sky Place.

nebraska dark sky park
Courtesy of Visit Nebraska
Courtesy of Visit Nebraska

Whenever people ask about how to stargaze, the first thing many experts say in reply is to find dark skies. You need them to see the northern lights. You need them to see a meteor shower. And if you’re looking for planets, stars, and other celestial objects, you won’t see things quite the same way in a city as you will under a truly dark sky.

The International Dark Sky Association (IDA) certifies parks as Dark Sky Parks to help you find those areas with minimal light pollution. It’s not just having a dark sky that makes a park qualify, but a commitment to conservation. This month, the IDA marked its 200th certified Dark Sky Place by welcoming Merritt Reservoir State Recreation Area in Nebraska.

The park is the first in Nebraska to get the designation in recognition of the exceptional stargazing you can do there and for its commitment to protecting the sky for its "scientific, natural, educational, cultural heritage, and public enjoyment."

"This recreational area provides a wonderful opportunity to recognize the importance of conserving natural darkness for the local ecosystem, encourages its neighbors to follow its example with quality outdoor lighting, while also providing a place to connect visitors with a quality dark sky experience where the Milky Way is visible to the naked eye--the core elements of what makes an esteemed International Dark Sky Park," IDA Director of Conservation Ashley Wilson said on the organization's website. 

Merritt Reservoir was already known as a great place for stargazers. It has hosted the annual Nebraska Star Party for 29 years. It sits just outside the town of Valentine in northern Nebraska. The designation marks it a special place as light pollution and satellite constellations continue to encroach on the ability to see deep into the night sky around the world.

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Dustin Nelson is a Senior Staff Writer at Thrillist. Follow Dustin on Twitter.