Dark Skies Over Utah
These days, Joette Langianese, executive director of the Friends of Arches and Canyonlands Parks, has her eyes set upwards. “Just like our native grasses, we’re looking at the dark sky as a natural resource that we want to preserve and protect,” she notes.
Set above the natural sandstone arches, mesas, and prehistoric, Puebloan-era villages of southeastern Utah, it is the billions of stars found in the night skies above southeastern Utah that the friends group is currently working to protect.
Along with Nate Ament, former National Park Service Colorado Plateau dark sky coordinator, and Crystal White, Dead Horse Point State Park assistant manager and night sky ranger, Joette started Moab Dark Skies. The impetus for the group's formation was the desire to engage community support around the appeal for Arches National Park to receive the International Dark Sky Designation in 2018, an honor which Canyonlands National Park received in 2016.
That said, the activities facilitated by Moab Dark Skies in the year since it has come into being have been much more holistic.
Key business and community leaders, as well as representatives from municipal and county governments, have been integral to the group's efforts to rally the residents of Moab around the protection of the region's dark skies.
Family-friendly astronomy events with telescopes, a public awareness campaign sharing suggestions about how to improve lighting in both commercial and private properties, and an upcoming night sky art contest in Moab this September are just a few examples of how Friends of Arches and Canyonlands Parks and Moab Dark Skies are connecting the park to the community in favor of the greater good.
As Joette noted, “people are really excited about our dark skies and about how to maintain and support them.”
In their broader work as a philanthropic partner to NPS, the friends group serves as the official partner to Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Hovenweep National Monument, and Natural Bridges National Monument.
In addition to their work with Moab Dark Skies, the group also runs extensive volunteer stewardship and youth education programming throughout the four park units.
With the support of the Utah Humanities Council and Utah State History, they were able to conduct oral history interviews for a series entitled, “The Voices of Canyonlands,” which documents the experiences of those involved with the establishment of Canyonlands National Park.
Ultimately, the Friends of Arches and Canyonlands Parks works to “connect people to place in ways that continue Bates Wilson’s values of exploration, collaboration, and stewardship of our Southeast Utah National Parks and Monuments.”
Bates Wilson, a foreman for the Civilian Conservation Corps, began his career in the National Park Service in the early 1930s. He was appointed as Superintendent of Arches and Natural Bridges National Monuments in 1949 and became a strong advocate for the creation of a national park on the land that is now Canyonlands National Park. As such, he became known as the “Father of the Canyonlands,” and his philosophy and love of public lands remain at the center of Friends of Arches and Canyonlands’ mission.
To learn more about the Friends of Arches and Canyonlands Parks’ programs and events or to support their work, visit their site.