Stargazers in the Central Okanagan could soon have a place to observe the night sky unencumbered by the city’s lights.
Regional District of Central Okanagan Board members voted at a meeting on Tuesday to support the nomination of Johns Family Nature Conservancy Regional Park as a designated dark sky preserve.
If approved, the 400-acre preserve on the south slopes of Kelowna would give stargazers an accessible and safe place to observe the night sky without the worry of artificial light taking away from their sights.
In 2011, the long-term future of the park became a reality when 324 hectares of land was donated to the Central Okanagan Land Trust by the Alfred Johns Family Estate. The next year, the regional district signed a 99-year lease to jointly manage the donated area and another 82 hectares of former park land to help establish the conservancy.
Isabella Hodson, supervisor of community relations with RDCO, said there were many reasons why this particular area was chosen as a dark sky preserve.
“For one, the area is huge. Another reason is that it’s adjacent to parcels of crown land and Okanagan Mountain Provincial park,” said Hodson.
“It’s an enormous area that creates a very large dark sky and the location makes it very special. It’s on the edge of city and the ridgeline separates it from other parts of the Okanagan.
Hodson said there are a few more steps before the park becomes a reality.
“Now that we’ve received the district blessing, we can now continue with an application to the Regional Astronomy Society of Canada to create the preserve,” said Hodson.
“It’s a bit of a process. We have to do a review of lighting in the park and take measures of sky darkness from a half dozen sights across the park to determine the quality of sight.”
Depending on the test results, Hodson said the area could either receive a dark sky preserve or urban star park status from the society. Urban star parks are essentially a grade lower than dark sky preserves because there normally is some artificial light present in the area for stargazers.
If approved, the new preserve would join only a few other dark sky parks across the province where astronomers can freely enjoy the night sky – including Mcdonald Park in Abbotsford and Cattle Point Park near Victoria.
Hodson said if the stars align, the park will hopefully receive a dark sky preserve status within the next three years.