Riding Mountain National Park is making waves on the internet as one of the best national parks in the entire country to go stargazing.
Next Vacay is a travel website developed in 2014 by husband and wife team Naveen and Shaylee Dittakavi. Users enter the name of the airport they wish to fly from and the site searches through a database to find the cheapest flights available. It also features travel advice and reviews.
Next Vacay looked at all of Canada’s national parks to find the best places to stargaze. They searched online via Instagram hashtags and considered air pollution levels, star visibility and other parameters when making their list.
Along with Riding Mountain National Park (RMNP), other national parks included on their list are Glacier National Park in British Columbia, Jasper National Park in Alberta, Fundy National Park in New Brunswick, Elk Island National Park in Saskatchewan and Bruce Peninsula National Park in Ontario.
Lauren Knowles, who works at the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC), said she’s not surprised that one of Manitoba’s national parks made the list of the best spots to see the stars in the country.
"If you just look at a map of Canada … you can see how much of it is not heavily populated, which means that there are a lot of spots where the skies are absolutely spectacular, and that aren’t affected by light pollution, Manitoba included."
The RASC has three dark-sky site designations that recognize sites that are contributing to the reduction of light pollution, educating the public about dark sites and working with municipalities to improve lighting legislation. To receive a designation, sites must fulfil certain requirements in regards to lighting, sky quality and outreach.
The three designations include dark-sky preserves, nocturnal preserves and urban star parks. Dark-sky preserves are areas in which artificial lighting is very limited and strictly controlled, and where active measures have been put in place to educate and promote the reduction of light pollution to the public and nearby municipalities. The public is able to enjoy visiting dark-sky preserves at night.
Nocturnal preserves are similar, with a primary focus on protecting the nocturnal environment. Nighttime access for astronomical viewing is not always possible on these preserves, which deliver public education programs about the night sky, nocturnal environment and light pollution abatement.
Urban star parks are areas that are protected like the aforementioned preserves, but are nearby urban areas.
Spruce Woods Provincial Park, 77 kilometres southeast of Brandon, received dark-sky preserve status in 2020. Knowles said she could definitely see sites at RMNP one day receiving the same designation. It all depends on the willingness of people to commit to responsible lighting.
George Hartlen, chief administrative officer of Friends of Riding Mountain National Park, said the park has been working toward dark-sky preserve status for some time now. It’s quite a long process that the park has already embarked on. Various studies have been done to identify how much light exists in the park and where the best dark-sky areas are.
"They’ve identified a fair number of sites in the park that are very dark-sky compliant already."
The park hopes to work with Manitoba Hydro and other organizations in the future to receive the dark-sky preserve designation status. Hartlen said RMNP is a perfect place for such a preserve due to a number of factors.
"We are higher than the surrounding landscape, so that blocks out a lot of light from surrounding communities. A lot of our park area here has very limited lighting, and so at nighttime it doesn’t take much to get a beautiful sky view."
Hartlen’s favourite spots for stargazing in the park include the end of the pier at Clear Lake in Wasagaming, around 100 kilometres north of Brandon, and a lookout in the north of the park that offers a view above the treeline.
Quinn Greavett, finance officer at the Municipality of Harrison Park, about 95 kilometres from Brandon, said she hasn’t heard anything about getting dark-sky preserve status for sites in the park but thinks it’s a good idea.
"Onanole’s urban area isn’t too widespread as far as streetlights go. It wouldn’t be hard to go off the beaten path here in Onanole to get a good stargazing spot."
Miranda Leybourne, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun