With the proliferation of artificial light across most of the industrialized world, a view of the night sky in all its glory is becoming more and more elusive.
Yet the human desire to marvel over the night sky hasn’t disappeared and local tourism providers are banking on this passion for astronomy coupled with the remote beauty of E.C. Manning Provincial Park to attract fans of astrotourism to the region. From Oct. 12 to 14 Manning Park, with AdvantageHOPE, the Fraser Valley Regional Library and the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada’s (RASC) Vancouver chapter, is holding its first ‘Astronomy Weekend.’
“Astrotourism and people traveling specifically for dark sky places is becoming really popular. And it’s really exciting,” said Hayley Miller, events coordinator with RASC.
Traditionally, B.C. hasn’t been a destination for tourism focused on the night sky, instead it is places like the Yukon or Northwest Territories where people travel to see the northern lights that have attracted most visitors.
AdvantageHOPE’s executive director Patrick Earl began pushing for astrotourism to make its appearance in this region. As economic development manager for the town of Bon Accord, Alberta, he saw how successful this kind of tourism could be. Bon Accord hosted multi-day festivals centred around the night sky, and became the first community in Canada to be designated an international dark sky community.
Both Earl and Robyn Barker, marketing coordinator for the resort, said they wanted to have First Nations involved in the event. Although this didn’t happen this year, the idea is to pursue this next year.
Several Interior communities have also expressed interest in becoming hubs for dark sky tourism.
“I’ve been talking to communities all the way up 97, Barkerville to Cache Creek, Lillooet, that want to start developing dark sky product as well. So it’s definitely got the attention of communities and I think that’s awesome because if we can do product development that helps the Interior, it helps us,” Earl said.
Earl is hopeful the growth of astrotourism locally can benefit Hope with increased hotel bookings during the ‘shoulder season’, the fall when tourism through the town plunges.
There is also potential to designate Manning as a dark sky preserve, a designation which means no artificial light is visible and there are measures in place to reduce light pollution in the area.
No concrete plans are set for this yet, but Barker said it will be discussed after the event this weekend and something which will involve planning on the part of the resort. What kind of preserve Manning wants to apply for through the RASC also needs to be discussed, Barker said, as there are other designations including nocturnal preserves and urban star parks.
“From (Earl’s) experience, he’s saying that this is a really prime location that people will be excited to visit, because it’s close to Vancouver, it’s close to the Interior. From his experience, people travel to see dark sky preserves,” Barker said.
“It’s an incredible location with great skies and low light pollution, great southern aspect from the top of the Cascade Lookout, so we thought we’d plan the first weekend and see how it goes, and look forward to how it would look.”
So far there is only one dark sky preserve in B.C., in neighbouring Abbotsford’s McDonald Park, and one urban star park at Victoria’s Cattle Point. If Manning were to become a preserve it would be the first provincial park in B.C. to do so. Of the 10 parks across Canada with the designation, the majority are in Alberta.
“It’s better for the earth and the animals and nature, because nocturnal animals would come out more in darkness and there is so much light in some of these parks. It really messes them up,” Miller said of the effects of light pollution.
“So it really benefits earth and it also benefits us for looking up at the sky. When its a dark sky we can see so much more than if there is light around. So it’s important for us and it’s important for mother nature.”
This weekend at Manning, Astronomy talks are interspersed with stargazing nights led by astronomy experts and storytellers. For those who want to learn to capture the stars, an intro to astrophotography workshop is happening Saturday from 12:30 to 1 p.m. There is even a yoga session under the stars planned for Saturday night.
Those interested in stargazing free of charge can do so on Friday night at Windy Joe Field and Saturday at Lightning Lake. For those who don’t have telescopes, both RASC and the library’s telescope loan program will have telescopes to try out.
Art from local creators and photographers of the night sky, including Chris Barker, Tim Barker and Justin Brown, will be on display from Oct. 6 to 14 at a free exhibit in Manning Park’s cascade room.
Barker said dark sky themed events will keep going throughout the winter months, including moonlight skiing, snowshoeing and a star-themed paint night.
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