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Medicine Rocks State Park certified as International Dark Sky Sanctuary
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Medicine Rocks State Park certified as International Dark Sky Sanctuary

The International Dark-Sky Association has officially designated Medicine Rocks State Park as a certified International Dark Sky Sanctuary. Medicine Rocks State Park and Glacier National Park are the only certified dark sky sites in Montana.

The application process for the IDA Dark Sky Sanctuary was a collaborative effort between Montana State Parks, the Carter County Museum, and Visit Southeast Montana.

The International Dark-Sky Association’s Dark Sky Sanctuary guidelines require that “the park must provide an exceptional dark sky resource where the night sky brightness is routinely equal to or darker than 21.5 magnitudes per square arcsecond.” Over the course of two years, Sabre Moore, the director of the Carter County Museum in Ekalaka, conducted sky quality measurements and concluded that Medicine Rocks State Park exceeded this benchmark.

“Medicine Rocks is known for its unique geologic formations that people have been visiting for thousands of years," said Chris Dantic, Medicine Rocks State Park manager. Adding the IDA Dark Sky Sanctuary Designation opens the park up to a new category of visitor, dark sky enthusiasts, that we’re excited to welcome to this incredible park in a beautiful corner of southeast Montana.” 

Dantic and Moore worked with Brenda Maas, director of marketing for Visit Southeast Montana Tourism, in completing the project.

“It was a lot of work, but the long-term benefits of a significant international designation make it well worth it,” Moore said.

The International Dark-Sky Association promotes night skies that are minimally impacted by human light sources. For more information on getting involved in the International Dark Sky Association Montana Chapter, visit https://montana.darksky.ngo/. The group raises awareness about light “pollution” in Montana and co-sponsors dark sky star parties at Medicine Rocks State Park, as well as across the state.

As a National Historic Site, Medicine Rocks carries great significance to the cultural and natural history of the region that requires preservation of the landscape. Dark Sky events and astrophotography workshops conducted within the park by Carter County Museum and Montana State Parks have put the park on the map as a destination for astronomical observers in addition to history enthusiasts.

The park also serves as a home for many species of flora and fauna that are fundamental to the ecosystem of southeastern Montana. In addition, the IDA designation will bring outside dollars to Ekalaka, Baker and the entire southeast Montana region, Maas said.

“Rural areas like those in Southeast Montana are perfectly positioned — literally and figuratively — to attract visitors who desire memorable outdoor activities,” Maas said, adding that IDSA designation is part of a bigger destination development project focused on night skies that matches a growing trend in tourism.

On Jan. 7, 2021, the Carter County Museum will kick off the first virtual dark sky program for Medicine Rocks State Park as an official IDA Dark Sky Sanctuary. The park will host additional IDA events on May 22, June 20, July 22, and Aug. 18. Visit http://stateparks.mt.gov/medicinerocks/or http://www.cartercountymuseum.org/ for more information.

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