A sign greets hikers as they prepare to enter the 100-Mile Wilderness in this April 30, 2015, file photo. Credit: Brian Feulner / BDN

The Appalachian Mountain Club’s Maine Woods property in the 100-Mile Wilderness between Moosehead Lake and Baxter State Park has been designated as the first International Dark Sky Park in New England. The park is expected to drive astronomy-based tourism and additional conservation in one of the darkest remaining night skies in the eastern U.S.

To be certified as an International Dark Sky Park, the club’s conservation land had to have exceptional starry nights and a robust nocturnal environment. In other words, it needed to be separated from urban development and protective of animal species. These 75,000 forested acres have also been identified as climate resilient. And Jenny Ward, who’s worked on the project for the club, said the Dark Sky park designation illustrates what an important resource Maine has.

“And for us, being able to leverage the dark skies in a way that draws people to our region for yet another outdoor experience is compelling,” Ward said. “So, it’s a great way to connect people to conservation work and really provide a huge bang when you get to see those stars.”

Last year, the nearby Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument was certified as an International Dark Sky Sanctuary, which is considered an even more remote and darker place but with less infrastructure. The AMC Dark Sky Park includes three wilderness lodges; nearly 130 miles of hiking, cycling and Nordic skiing trails; and paddling and fishing opportunities.

But while the park is seen as a way to protect animals and support new tourism opportunities, threats to the region known as Maine’s North Woods remain.

“It stands on the advancing edge of development that brings with it the end of the dark night sky,” said Steve Tatko, AMC Director of Maine Conservation and Dark Sky Park Superintendent. “I see this designation as a way for the people of this area to re-envision the immense importance of this forest in a way that makes tangible the intrinsic beauty of the night sky we all cherish.”

An event celebrating Maine’s dark skies is already being planned for the fall.

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.

Watch more: