A grassroots effort is underway to designate a patch of Douglas County as an international dark sky park.
The site in question could encompass parts of the Douglas County State Wildlife Area, which includes the bird sanctuary, as well as portions of the North Country Trail, St. Croix River and flowage. The proposed dark sky area would stretch across the towns of Gordon, Wascott, Solon Springs and Dairyland. It may even reach into Burnett County.
Being named an dark sky park by the International Dark-Sky Association signifies a site with exceptional quality of starry nights and one that protects the night sky. Two northern Minnesota properties earned the dark sky distinction in 2020 — the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness received the honor in September and Voyageurs National Park followed in December.
There should be a similar spot closer to home for Wisconsinites, said Angela Botner of Solon Springs.
“Wisconsin deserves a distinction like this and the area of the Bird Sanctuary, St. Croix Flowage, and scenic (St. Croix) riverway are perfect candidates,” she said.
Botner, a professional photographer, has captured sweeping night sky pictures in the area that feature the Milky Way, aurora borealis and events like the Neowise meteor. The sights are obscured in many areas of Wisconsin.
“People in the lower two-thirds of our state have terrible light pollution and don't know of official public areas to enjoy the night sky,” said Botner, board chairwoman for the town of Solon Springs.
Being designated an international dark sky park could attract visitors who love to see and photograph the night sky to Douglas County, she said. It could also increase local awareness and support for adopting lighting approaches that curb light pollution.
The designation wouldn't place any restrictions on the land, Botner said. The area's lighting situation would be revisited annually and if the lighting situation or commitment to the efforts change and it no longer meets the requirements of the program, the designation would be dropped.
It would involve ongoing inventory and monitoring of existing lighting and some outreach activities. Botner has already volunteered to coordinate those efforts if the area meets the criteria to be designated a dark sky park.
The process of becoming a dark sky park takes an average of three to four years, according to the association. Botner said she plans to begin the nomination process in February.
She currently has unofficial support from the National Park Service, support from the St. Croix River and North Country Trail associations, as well as commitment letters from the Solon Springs School District, town of Solon Springs and Rep. Nick Milroy, D-South Range, she said. The Douglas County Forest, Parks and Recreation Committee voted to support the process at its Monday, Jan. 4 meeting.
Now, she's seeking help from residents, businesses and organizations.
"Letters of support for this initiative will be critical to demonstrate that we have a partnership and shared interest in its designation," Botner said. "I also need help to solidify the boundaries of the proposed area. This could also include recommended access points for potential visitors. Your input is essential."
Whether people live in the area or visit it, their input is welcome. Letters can be sent via email to: Townofsolonsprings@gmail.com.
This story was originally posted Jan. 5 at 11 a.m. It contained an inaccuracy in the headline referring to the area seeking International Dark Sky Park status. It was updated at Jan. 5 at 1:55 p.m. with the the correct area in the headline and additional information on the towns within the possible dark sky site. The Telegram regrets the error.