Moab gets a new honor, thanks to its dark skies

Dark Sky Community recognition allows city to join area parks, Castle Valley in the densest area of Dark Sky Places worldwide.

(John Burcham | The New York Times) Venus rises amid a blanket of stars in Arches National Park in February 2022.

After years of effort, Moab is now an International Dark Sky Community, as designated by DarkSky International, according to city spokesperson Lisa Church.

“This designation is the culmination of years of efforts from residents, businesses, elected officials and city staff to promote safe lighting below and uninterrupted views above,” she wrote.

Mayor Joette Langianese had this to say: “At times the stars are so bright that they create their own natural light. Besides all of the natural red rock landscapes that Moab is known for — after the sun goes down the night sky provides a landscape all of its own.”

Michael Rymer of the DarkSky program said the group is pleased with the designation.

“DarkSky International is excited for the city of Moab’s International Dark Sky Community certification as it adds another piece of night sky protection in Utah’s Canyon Country. The city’s commitment and leadership with Dark Sky efforts have been as remarkable as the landscape in which it occupies, and we are proud to welcome Moab, Utah, to the growing list of International Dark Sky Communities around the world.”

Church noted that the skies of southeastern Utah “are exceptional for stargazing and astrophotography. Nine International Dark Sky Parks are in the area, and now Moab joins Castle Valley as one of two Dark Sky communities.”

To earn its International Dark Sky designation, Moab updated its outdoor lighting code in 2019 and refined it in 2023. The city has been transitioning its buildings and streetlights to energy-saving, downward-facing LED fixtures, wrote Church. It piloted streetlights in 2021 and decorative lights on Main Street in 2024. These new lights will be slightly brighter and more directed than existing outdated lighting. A full conversion is expected to be completed in 2025.

Furthermore, the Friends of Arches and Canyonlands Parks, the nonprofit behind the Moab Dark Skies program, is providing reimbursement funds to locals to ensure the entire community can adopt downward-facing lighting by 2029. “We extend our gratitude to the numerous community members whose tireless efforts over almost a decade facilitated this significant achievement,” says Steve Evers, executive director. Residents can find details on the reimbursement at moabdarkskies.com.

The ongoing effort to provide better lighting is vital for residents’ well-being, according to Moab’s sustainability director, Alexi Lamm. “Directing lights downward provides light on the ground but not in the sky, making it easier for residents to walk safely and sleep soundly in town and marvel at the Milky Way in nearby wild areas.”

The benefits are far-reaching, said Langianese. “Moab tends to deal with many controversial issues but maintaining one of the area’s greatest assets — our night sky — was an issue that was hard to deny. Just go outside after dark and look toward the stars to soothe your soul.”

As the newest Dark Sky Community, Moab invites residents and visitors to join in the celebration. The first opportunity is from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. June 7 at the Arts & Ag Market in Swanny Park. Church said participants can enjoy dark sky crafts and get information about the Southeast Utah AstroFest star viewing opportunities that will take place throughout the weekend.

Then, on June 15, Skate Moab’s Family Skate Date will also be dark-sky themed. Participants can join in the fun from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., at the Sun Court next to Star Hall on East Center Street.

This story was first published by The Times-Independent.