Dark Skies leads to bright future in Ballycroy

Tourism in the county received a major boost this week, with the news that Ballycroy National Park and Wild Nephin Wilderness is to be jointly recognised as Mayo International Dark Sky Park. The park has received accreditation from International Dark Skies Assocation. There are just 31 other Dark Skies Parks in the world, with the majority of them being located in the USA including the famous Death Valley National Park in California. Ballycroy National Park is now the first ever International Dark Sky Park in Ireland. The park received Gold tier classification; according to the International Dark Skies Assocation a Gold tier classification is "an honor reserved for the most exceptional of dark skies and stunning nightscapes". This recognition completes the '360 degree experience' that this stunning region has to offer.

The news was conveyed at a special Mayo Dark Skies event which was held in the park yesterday. Sue Callaghan, district conservation officer at the park, told the Mayo Advertiser: "It's great to get the accreditation, it's been a great achievement by a number of stakeholders involved to get it to where we are today, a lot of work was put in by the likes of Georgina MacMillen to get the project accredited by the International Dark Skies Association. We've been awarded Gold status by the group which is the highest standard you can get, which means it's pristine dark skies for viewing. We're now planning to move ahead with a number of new events based around this."

National Parks and Wildlife Service regional manager William Cormacan, in a statement, said: “Ballycroy National Park and Wild Nephin are honored to have received Gold-tier International Dark Sky Park status. We are fully committed to preserving our pristine dark skies and are excited by the many opportunities that this accreditation will present for local tourism, businesses, and the park.”

Project manager Georgia MacMillan added: “We are thrilled with the award. The project has been embraced by so many parties and is the first collaboration of its kind between a national park, Coillte, and surrounding communities. Our nightscapes are inspirational and worth protecting for future generations. It’s hoped that achieving this award will not only showcase the area for the growing market of astro-tourism, but also raise awareness of the impact of light pollution on our environment and biodiversity.”

An International Dark Sky Park is a land possessing an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and a nocturnal environment that is specifically protected for its scientific, natural, educational, cultural heritage, and/or public enjoyment. The land may be publicly owned, or privately owned provided that the landowner(s ) consent to the right of permanent, ongoing public access to specific areas included in the IDA designation. The Dark Sky Places certification process is modeled on other conservation and environmental designation programmes, such as the UNESCO World Heritage Sites and Biosphere Reserves.

The Mayo International Dark Sky Park already has some exciting events planned for the coming months, including The Mayo Dark-Sky Festival to be held from October 28 to 30. A formal launch event will be announced shortly and a full schedule of dark sky events and educational programmes will be available from Ballycroy National Park.

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