Spruce Woods earns star status

·3 min read

Stargazers across the Prairies may soon be flocking to Manitoba’s first-ever dark-sky preserve after Spruce Woods Provincial Park received the historic designation from the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.

The designation recognizes the park, located 77 kilometres east of Brandon, and its dark skies as a “significant ecological and cultural resource” and is a commitment to protecting the nocturnal environment from the negative impacts of light pollution, a press release from the astronomical society said.

The Spruce Woods Provincial Park dark-sky preserve will enhance visitors’ appreciation of the night sky, Bob King, chair of the astronomical society’s light pollution abatement committee, said in the release.

“The night sky is an important part of our natural heritage and also our cultural heritage, which includes Indigenous knowledge and star stories.”

The designation of Spruce Woods as a dark-sky preserve is the result of years of hard work since the park received a provincial designation from the society in 2018, Lauren Knowles, environmental outreach co-ordinator with the astronomical society, said in an interview.

Retrofits have been done to the lighting in the park to ensure it’s up to the society’s standards for dark-sky preserves, including shielded luminaries, aiming light downward and using timers to turn lights off during the night. Park staff have also been involved in creating night sky programs, such as campfire presentations and guided tours.

“It’s been a few years of hard work on their part, for sure,” Knowles said.

For Ann Stout, who sits on the board of directors for Friends of Spruce Woods, the designation feels like a pat on the back after all the work the organization has done to earn dark-sky preserve status for the park.

“Everybody is very passionate about what we do out there … it’s been a long time coming,” Stout said. “We’re a very small group but … we all work together so well with the park staff.”

This is just the beginning of the park’s association with the astronomical society, Stout hopes.

For Knowles, the more people who know and care about the importance of dark skies, the better, as the development of cities and towns to meet the needs of Canada’s growing population means an increase in light pollution. Artificial light at night, she explained, can harm the environment.

“It’s really important that we’re seeing these places that are committed to protecting the nocturnal environment … because light pollution doesn’t know any boundaries. It’s really important that everyone is doing their part to mitigate the impacts of light pollution.”

Spruce Woods is the 27th site to be designated under the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada’s Dark-Sky Sites program — and the first in Manitoba.

Jeff Wharton, Manitoba’s environment, climate and parks minister, said the designation will have a positive effect.

“We are excited to see beautiful Spruce Woods Provincial Park become the first provincial site to be designated a dark-sky preserve, which recognizes its strong commitment to preserving nighttime ecosystems and educating visitors about light pollution,” he stated in a release.

The designation will be celebrated Sunday at the annual Spruce Woods Star Party. On Aug. 26, the provincial government announced it was investing $1.1 million from the Provincial Parks Endowment Fund to support park enhancement projects across the province, including upgrades to yurts at Spruce Woods. Some of the funding will also go toward supporting conservation and biodiversity enhancement projects at the park, according to a release.

Miranda Leybourne, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun