Processing Your Payment

Please do not leave this page until complete. This can take a few moments.

May 11, 2020

Katahdin Woods and Waters earns international distinction for its scenery, at night

Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, the federally protected area in northern Penobscot County known for its scenic wilderness, may soon be attracting attention for a different kind of view.

Courtesy / John Meader
A view of the night sky at Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, now an International Dark Sky Sanctuary.

The 87,500-acre tract, on the eastern border of Baxter State Park, has been designated as an International Dark Sky Sanctuary — one of only a dozen in the world, and the only sanctuary in the U.S. east of the Mississippi River.

The designation, announced in a news release Friday, identifies spots where the night sky appears unusually dark, and allows views of celestial bodies without the interference of artificial light. Designated sanctuaries are remote areas that offer some of the world’s darkest skies, according to the International Dark Sky Association.

The association recognizes six types of dark sky spaces on the basis of their access to nocturnal star-gazing. Katahdin Woods and Waters is the first certified space of any kind in New England.

“This designation is the culmination of a long-term effort by a dedicated group of people and is an exciting event in the short history of the monument,” said Katahdin Woods and Waters Superintendent Tim Hudson in the release.

“Designation as a Dark Sky Sanctuary recognizes this incredible resource that does not in many places today in this country, much less anywhere else in New England.”

Katahdin Woods and Waters is protected by the National Park Service for public recreational use after being named a national monument in 2016. That capped more than a decade of public and political debate about federal protection of the land, which was valued at $60 million and donated by Burt’s Bees co-founder and philanthropist Roxanne Quimby.

Even the installation of highway signs leading visitors to the protected land was delayed by controversy. Then-Gov. Paul LePage opposed the signs until 2018, and the first of the 22 informational markers was only installed last fall.

Like the signage, the sanctuary designation may encourage visits to Katahdin Woods and Waters. The distinction also could leverage a growing interest in “astrotourism,” as the magazine Conde Nast Traveler called the trend last year.

Due to increasing development, air pollution and other factors, nearly 99% of U.S. residents can no longer see the Milky Way because of light pollution, according to a study cited by the magazine. An increasing number of people are now searching out those spots that still have a view.

More than 20 million adults traveled to watch the 2017 solar eclipse across the U.S., according to Conde Nast. And the International Dark Sky Association says that the number of parks applying for certification as a dark sky spot grew fivefold from 2011 to 2019.

Sign up for Enews

Related Content


Order a PDF