The Appalachian Mountain Club’s Maine Woods property, tens of thousands of acres between Moosehead Lake and Baxter State Park, this month became the first International Dark Sky Park in New England, signifying its place as one of the best star-gazing spots east of the Mississippi.

More than just a celebration of the North Woods’ wild nature, the designation is a challenge to keep it that way.

We all may look up at the same sky. But when you gaze up at night from the Maine North Woods, you see it like no other place on the East Coast. So little light comes off the seemingly endless expanse of forest and river that only the universe above us is left to shine.

The International Dark-Sky Association recognizes how special that is. Last year, the group named the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, adjacent to Baxter State Park, as an International Dark Sky Sanctuary, meaning it has “an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and a nocturnal environment that is protected,” with few, if any, threats on the horizon, typically because of the site’s remote location.

A Dark Sky Park has the same top-notch starry nights and creature-filled environs – but comes with a warning.

Throughout New England, increased development over the last several decades has encroached on areas once mostly wild. The loss of dark night skies in these areas is a sign of light pollution but also the disruption of habitat that can have far-reaching consequences.


It could happen to the North Woods, too, if we’re not careful. The creation of the Dark Sky Park is a bulwark against that kind of encroachment – a declaration that the property and the land get their value from their natural and wild nature, and that it shouldn’t be tossed away.

“While the AMC North Maine Woods region retains its rugged character defined by the enormity of the forest here,” said Steve Tatko, AMC’s director of Maine Conservation and Dark Sky Park superintendent, “it stands on the advancing edge of development that brings with it the end of the dark night sky.”

Few places have a sky like that because few places are as untamed as the Maine North Woods. There is hardly anywhere like it in the eastern United States. It is special.

Designations like the Dark Sky Park will help keep it that way. AMC already educates its visitors on the relationship between the clear night skies and the treatment of the land below it.

Last year, the town of Greenville, surrounded by the land, retrofitted its streetlights to minimize light pollution as an extension of AMC’s project.

Why? They understand that the key to not only the future of the town but also the future of the entire region is a healthy North Woods – one that can be enjoyed in all its wild, natural splendor.

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