Merritt Reservoir SRA Certified as International Dark Sky Park

Merritt Reservoir SRA Certified as International Dark Sky Park
The Milky Way and a blanket of other stars glow in the night sky at Merritt Reservoir State Recreation Area. Photo credit: Justin Haag.

VALENTINE – Merritt Reservoir State Recreation Area, renowned for its Sandhills location providing spectacular astronomical views, has been certified as an International Dark Sky Park.

Merritt has hosted the annual Nebraska Star Party each summer for 29 years, when professional and amateur astronomers converge to take advantage of a sky free of light pollution.

Merritt is the first Nebraska site certified by the International Dark-Sky Association. The IDA is the recognized authority on light pollution and is the leading organization combating light pollution worldwide.

“This is an exciting first for our state,” said Executive Director of Nebraska Tourism John Ricks. “The Dark Sky Park will attract people to experience the awe and splendor of our night skies, adding yet another excellent, unique experience to visiting Nebraska.”

Nebraska Game and Parks Commission Director Tim McCoy added, “We’re thrilled and honored to have Merritt Reservoir be given this prestigious distinction. It’s another great reason to visit this well-known park.”

The International Dark-Sky Association’s International Dark Sky Places Program was founded in 2001 to encourage communities, parks, and protected areas around the world to preserve and protect dark sites through responsible lighting policies and public education. The program has five types of designations: International Dark Sky Communities, International Dark Sky Parks, International Dark Sky Reserves, International Dark Sky Sanctuaries and Urban Night Sky Places.

International Dark Sky Parks are parks that are publicly- or privately-owned spaces protected for natural conservation that implement good outdoor lighting and provide dark sky programs for visitors.

Merritt, a 9,000-acre park southwest of Valentine in Cherry County, already is known for its excellent fishing, boating, and camping opportunities.

Nebraska Tourism and the Nebraska Game and Parks partnered to earn the international designation.