Dark Sky adds to allure of Glacier

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Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park is the first trans-boundary International Dark Sky Park — an important designation in protecting the visitor experience that drives the tourism industry in Northwest Montana.

It’s estimated that one-third of the world’s population is unable to see the Milky Way due to light pollution. But thanks to some forward-thinking individuals who put in a decade of work to secure the Dark Sky designation, Glacier remains one place where a person can truly experience the natural wonder of the night sky.

Reducing light pollution is also important from an ecological perspective. Experts say unnatural light is disruptive of migration and other natural processes of wildlife.

This summer, the parks will host a series of star parties and solar viewing programs for the public to learn more about this new designation.

The publicity from the Dark Sky designation will no doubt help propel even more visitors to our next of the woods this year.

Whether it’s for night viewing or wildlife viewing, eco-tourism continues to be big business for Northwest Montana — the proof is in the numbers.

Visitors to Glacier National Park are responsible for injecting more than $250 million into the local economy last year, according to a new report issued by the Interior Department. That’s a 25 percent increase over 2015.

It’s important to note that these dollars aren’t just going to tourism-related businesses. The inflow of money is spread throughout the economy, helping to support more than 4,000 jobs and accounting for about $117 million in labor income in gateway economies surrounding Glacier. That’s no small potatoes.

There’s no denying the importance tourism plays in Montana’s economy, which is now considered the second largest industry in the state.

Of course, this brings challenges as well, especially in sensitive areas such as Glacier Park. Figuring out how to accommodate park visitors without damaging the eco-system will continue to be a major challenge for the next several decades.

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