The Glacier National Park Conservancy raised more than a quarter-million dollars for its namesake during its annual Backpacker’s Ball Fundraiser, including more than $150,000 to support the park’s growing dark sky program.
The money raised on Aug. 5 will go toward the installation of a new observation dome at the St. Mary Visitor Center, an expansion of the daily astronomy education programs throughout the park, and the installation of dark sky-friendly lighting in the park, according to Amy Dempster, director of marketing and communications for the conservancy.
“We are honored by the ongoing support of the businesses and individuals in our community who choose to support critical programs throughout the park,” said Executive Director Doug Mitchell. “These funds represent a significant investment in preserving and protecting Glacier National Park for future generations.”
Glacier’s night sky education program has quickly become a popular attraction at the park, aided by a lack of light pollution in this remote section of Montana. In April, the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park was named the world’s first trans-boundary International Dark Sky Park.
Glacier spokesperson Lauren Alley said the park hopes to establish a small public observatory in St. Mary, possibly even as soon as next year, to help the park in its mission to educate the public about astronomy. Alley said the observatory would also include exhibits about the Blackfeet Tribe and its connection to the night sky.
“With funding from the conservancy, this project is now possible,” Alley said.
Part of Glacier’s designation as a dark sky park is a promise that it will continue to promote astronomy education, including offering talks and programs at Apgar, St. Mary and Logan Pass. The third and final Logan Pass Star Party of the summer will be held on Aug. 25. The event runs from 9 p.m. to 12 a.m. and officials ask for a $5 donation for a ticket.
Glacier Park’s employees had to conduct extensive research as part of the dark sky designation application. Researchers took sky quality measurements in some of the park’s darkest areas. According to Mark Biel, Glacier’s natural resource program manager, most places within the park have an SQM rating of 21.5 to 21.8, just a few points below a perfect 22 for a moonless night with zero artificial light. The park also has to install dark sky friendly lighting that directs light down, not up. About 30 percent of Glacier’s more than 2,000 lights are night-sky friendly, and officials hope to renovate the rest of the lights within the next few years.