Superior’s wilderness area world-recognized for its starry night sky

Milky Way over the BWCAW

Stargazers seeking an increasingly rare sight — a nighttime sky free from light pollution and twinkling with visible stars — can visit the Superior National Forest’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The area was recently designated as an International Dark Sky Sanctuary and is just the 13th location in the world to gain this unique title.

This worldwide designation is granted by the International Dark Sky Association, a non-profit organization founded in 1988 with the goal of reducing light pollution and protecting night skies for the present and into the future. Not only is the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) the first Minnesota site and first federally designated wilderness site to be named an International Dark Sky Sanctuary; at 1,098,000 acres, will also be the largest.

 “We are excited to receive the Dark Sky Sanctuary designation for the BWCAW and are committed to preserving dark sky opportunities for future generations,” said Superior National Forest Supervisor Connie Cummins.

The International Dark Sky Sanctuary webpage describes each recipient as a “public or private land that has an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and a nocturnal environment that is protected for its scientific, natural, or educational value, its cultural heritage and/or public enjoyment.” 

As an International Dark Sky Sanctuary, the BWCAW offers visitors a sight that fewer and fewer people can experience. According to a 2016 National Geographic article, 80% of Americans can no longer view the Milky Way due to light pollution.

Dark skies, starry nights and astonishing northern lights displays have been part of the Boundary Waters experience long before the area was designated wilderness with the passage of the 1964 Wilderness Act and 1978 BWCA Wilderness Act. According to Ann Schwaller, BWCAW program manager, these conservation and preservation laws, policy and guidance all led to the protection of the night skies for scientific, natural, educational, cultural and public enjoyment values. These are all part of protecting wilderness character.

For more information on preserving night skies in your own backyard, please visit the International Dark Sky Association website.

Photo Caption: The spectacular night sky of the Superior National Forest’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, recently designated as an International Dark Sky Sanctuary. Photo courtesy of Ethan B. Allen.