Viewing the Night Sky as a Recreation Experience at Acadia National Park

Robert Manning


The National Park Service has recently extended the purview of its management from conventional landscapes (e.g., soil, vegetation, water, wildlife) to include “lightscapes”, or more specifically the night sky.  This study was designed to inform management of the recreation activity of viewing the night sky.  How important is viewing the night sky to national park visitors?  What are potential indicators of quality for viewing the night sky?  Indicators of quality are measurable, manageable variables that are important to visitors in defining the quality of night sky viewing.  The principal study method was a survey of overnight visitors to Acadia National Park.  The survey questionnaire asked visitors a series of questions about the importance of viewing the night sky.  Most respondents reported that viewing the night sky is important, but were less certain about how the quality of night sky viewing might affect future visits to the park.  The questionnaire also included an “observation/evaluation” exercise to identify potential indicators of qualities for night sky viewing.  Respondents were presented with a list of items and asked to report 1) which items had been seen in the park at night and which had not been seen, and 2) how seeing or not seeing these items affected the quality of their recreation experience.  Resulting data were organized into an importance-performance format to identify potentially good indicators of quality.  Findings suggest the ability to see natural objects in the night sky is a good indicator of quality, with special emphasis on the Milky Way.  Minimizing human-caused light may also be an important indicator of quality.  Management implications of study findings include placing more emphasis on the night sky as part of the recreation experience in national parks and related areas, formulating indicators and standards of quality for night sky viewing, expanding educational and interpretive programing to sensitize visitors to the night sky, improving park lighting to minimize light pollution, and working with surrounding communities to minimize light pollution from outside parks.


Night skies; National parks; Acadia National Park


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