With the Quadrantid meteor shower peaking this weekend, Jackson Lake State Park has the dark skies for a dazzling display

The International Meteor Organization (IMO) is projecting that the Quadrantid meteor shower will peak around 1 a.m. Saturday. AccuWeather predicts that most of Colorado, including the eastern plains, will have good viewing conditions for the shower. And Jackson Lake State Park offers up the dark skies to showcase it all.

By Amy Brandenburg, Park Ranger at Jackson Lake State Park

ORCHARD, Colo. – Ralph Waldo Emerson probably said it best, “The sky is the ultimate art gallery just above us.” 

Venturing from Denver and the metro area, the sky is clouded with an orange haze and inorganic glow. However, once on the eastern plains of Colorado, a traveler can pull the car over on a country road, get out, look up and be astounded at the beautiful sights that encompass the sky above him. This is one of the very unique things about living outside of the city, which most people forget about, because their eyes are looking down at their phones. 

Morgan County has exceptionally dark skies once you journey away from our still quiet towns onto a county road. We should consider ourselves lucky to still be one of the few places our children can look up and see the big dipper, or even the Milky Way on a clear night.

Jackson Lake State Park is taking these dark skies one step further. The park was awarded two separate grants – $3,500 from the Colorado Parks Foundation and $20,000 from the Director’s Innovation Grant – to fund a “Dark Skies Initiative.” 

This project consists of eliminating and changing out lights inside and outside all buildings on the park to be “dark skies friendly.” This means that lights are fully shielded, point straight down and have a color temperature less than 3000 kelvins. Bathroom buildings will also have sensors inside, so that lights are not staying on all evening. 

Aside from causing less light pollution for night sky viewing, research has shown that this specific type of lighting is less harmful to wildlife that migrate in the night. Some birds even rely on stars for their migration path. Studies have also found that increased lighting has little to no effect on decreasing crime rates. Additionally, having dark areas is also known to help people reset their circadian rhythm, which is the biological clock that relies on the daily cycles of lightness and darkness; more on these topics to follow in upcoming articles. 

Jackson Lake is not alone in this lighting feat; they are also working with Morgan County Rural Electric Association to remove the large light poles at the park to increase opportunities to see those beautiful stars above. 

Since the lighting will be so minimal at Jackson Lake State Park, it will become an even more significant place to visit during unique celestial and lunar events. One of Jackson Lake’s frequent amateur astronomers stated, “I drive out twice a month to get away from the city’s light dome, so I can enjoy the night sky in such a way that is impossible to do in Denver. You can actually see the Milky Way.”

Photo by Nora Logue

The grants also affords the park the opportunity to acquire a new telescope to use while hosting educational and interpretive programs for the public. Guests can expect several experts in the field to share their knowledge, as well, at certain times of the year.

Furthermore, in the evenings, rangers will be educating campers to “light their site, not the night.” Many new RVs and motor homes have large amounts of exterior lights, which are generally unnecessary, use excess energy and can cause neighboring campers to have a limited view of the night sky. 

By making these changes, Jackson Lake State Park is hoping to gain the accreditation of an “International Dark Skies Place” from the IDA (International Dark Skies Association). If the title is granted, Jackson Lake State Park will be the only state park in Colorado, and the only accredited place in Colorado east of I-25 to be certified. 

It is a very exciting endeavor for Jackson Lake State Park, an endeavor they hope will create a new unique reason to visit Morgan County.

 

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