Kickapoo Valley Dark Sky Initiative logo

Logo was designed by Jordyn York

The Driftless Area’s first International Dark Sky Park is being created in Vernon County. Kickapoo Valley Reserve, Wildcat Mountain State Park, and Mississippi Valley Conservancy are working together to earn this designation for the 13,300 acres of KVR, Wildcat, and Tunnelville Cliffs along the Kickapoo River. DarkSky (formerly International Dark-Sky Association) awards this distinction to “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.”

Driftless Wisconsin dark skies

Photo by John Rummel

The strenuous application process requires a sky quality survey, lighting inventory and management plan, community partners, and education and outreach. They are assisted in this initiative by John Heasley, Marla Lind, Scott Lind, and Susan Cushing. Benefits of creating the Kickapoo Valley Dark Sky Park include a healthier community and ecosystem, the financial benefits of tourism, the pride of being a world-leading community, and financial savings owing to reduced energy usage. But most important is preserving our heritage of starry skies for the enjoyment and awe of future generations.

You can enjoy those starry skies right now. There are no artificial lights (and never will be) at Tunnelville Cliffs. KVR and Wildcat have made many smart lighting changes to enhance your enjoyment of the night. And there is a website to let you know more about the project as well as where and how to stargaze.

Public programs are an important part of the KVDSP, and there are five you can enjoy later this summer and fall. Northwest Suburban Astronomers will be sharing a talk and star party at Wildcat on August 12 and solar viewing on August 13. Stargazing and stories will be part of Wildcat Mountains 75th Anniversary Bash on September 16. There is an Evening Sky Prairie Walk at Tunnelville Cliffs on October 7 and a Guided Moonlight Hike at Wildcat on October 28.

Starry skies await you at the Kickapoo Valley Dark Sky Park!

John Heasley is an astronomy educator and stargazer who enjoys connecting people with the cosmos. He volunteers with NASA/JPL as a Solar System Ambassador, with the International Dark-Sky Association as an Advocate, and the International Astronomical Union as a Dark Sky Ambassador. For more information about stargazing in southwest WI, like Driftless Stargazing LLC on Facebook and find out whenever there’s something awesome happening in the skies.