Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Named Dark Sky Sanctuary – Just In Time For Winter Aurora

Stretching along the Canadian border, Minnesota’s entire Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness has been named the 13th Dark Sky Sanctuary in the world by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA).

The process to receive certification from the IDA has been ongoing since initial discussions in 2008. With the recent announcement, the Boundary Waters is now the largest Dark Sky Sanctuary in the world and the first IDA Dark Sky Place in Minnesota – though other parts of the state are working for certification too, including Voyageurs National Park also along the Minnesota-Canada border.

“We are excited to receive the Dark Skies Sanctuary designation for the BWCAW and are committed to preserving dark sky opportunities for future generations,” Connie Cummins, Superior National Forest Supervisor, said as part of the announcement.

The Boundary Waters have been protected dating back to the passage of the 1964 Wilderness Act and 1978 BWCA Wilderness Act, which ensured that this uniquely wild part of the country is protected for future generations. This Dark Sky Sanctuary certification ensures that the night sky will also be protected: “Conservation and preservation laws, policy and guidance all lead to the protection of the night skies for scientific, natural, educational, cultural, and public enjoyment values, which are all part of protecting wilderness character,” said BWCAW Program Manager Ann Schwaller.

Schwaller has been part of the effort to receive IDA certification since its inception over a decade ago. Her role includes preserving the wildness – and now the darkness – of the Boundary Waters. As part of this, she has been involved in dark sky measurements to meet and maintain IDA certification standards.

“This is a dark sky heritage. We’re looking at a sky that people looked at thousands of years ago. And to me it feels like preserving a really special heritage. It’s part of the fabric of the Boundary Waters,” Schwaller concluded in a story for MPR.

To visit the Boundary Waters, you’ll need to travel north from Duluth, Minnesota; Ely is a common area to base yourself from when exploring the area. Minnesota currently has standard COVID travel-restrictions in place, including wearing masks indoors and social distancing. However, the night sky will still be there once the COVID-19 Pandemic is better managed; stay home and plan a future trip to Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness instead.

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