Northern Lights at Quetico Provincial Park

Quetico Provincial Park awarded Dark Sky designation with exceptional starry, starry nights

by W. Andrew Powell

There is nothing like looking up at the night sky, and seeing all the stars. It’s an awe-inspiring view, especially for those of us living in the city, and it’s not always a view we can enjoy because of light pollution.

Ontario Parks has an incredible range of spaces for visitors to enjoy the province’s beautiful, natural spaces, and thanks to two years of work, they recently announced Quetico Provincial Park has now been designated as an International Dark Sky Park by the International Dark-Sky Association.

Quetico is now the third provincial park in Ontario, since 2018, to receive the Dark Sky Park designation, including Killarney Provincial Park and Lake Superior Provincial Park. The designation was possible thanks to Starry Skies Lake Superior IDA chapter, and the Heart of the Continent Partnership.

So what does the designation mean? Simply put, Quetico Provincial Park has very little light or other pollution, making it easier to see the stars and night sky. The IDA refers to it as an “exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and a nocturnal environment that is specifically protected for its scientific, natural, educational, cultural heritage, and/or public enjoyment.”

Quetico Provincial Park
Quetico Provincial Park

There was a lot of work required to achieve the designation, too. External lighting in the park had to be converted to special light fixtures that are dark sky compliant, sky quality measurements had to be taken, and a new education program was developed with signage to inform visitors about why the change is important.

“A starry sky free of light pollution is a source of wonder and inspiration for visitors to Quetico Provincial Park, and an important part of the park’s natural environment,” Trevor Gibb, Park Superintendent of Quetico Provincial Park said.

“Receiving this designation from the IDA will help us to promote the preservation of night skies in our region and maintain the ecological integrity of the park. When gazing skyward from one of Quetico’s campsites today, you can see a night sky similar in quality to what someone would have seen 100 or 1000 years ago camped at that very same spot. I hope that 100 years in the future the same will hold true.”

Beyond benefiting animals, helping to maintain the natural ecosystem of the parks, and the stunning view, there are also health benefits for people.

“Being exposed to artificial light at night breaks the circadian clock, while being in the darkness resets it,” Healthy Parks Healthy People coordinator Sarah McMichael wrote in the Ontario Parks blog. “When camping, the darkness of the park is actually helping our circadian clock function more naturally. A better circadian clock means a better sleep, which contributes to better overall health.”

For campers, you can help protect dark sky spaces, beyond the common mantra of “leave nothing but footprints.” A few notable things to keep in mind when you’re camping next, to reduce light pollution:

  • Use outdoor lights and lanterns only when necessary and shut them off when you go to sleep.
  • Don’t use solar powered garden lights that stay lit all night long.
  • Don’t use lighting on your campsite such as string lights.

For more about how Ontario Parks is protecting night skies, read their article “Do the skies need our protection?” Quetico is open year-round for day-use, with camping available from May 21, 2021 to October 12, 2021. Visit their website for more information, to make your reservation, and to learn more about current updates due to COVID-19.

Starry sky and trees over Ojibway Campground campsite, Quetico Provincal Park
Starry sky and trees over Ojibway Campground campsite, Quetico Provincal Park

First two photos by Rob Stimpson. Last photo by Laura Myers.

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