CTO grants Dark Sky Tour of Colorado $25,000

The Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, pictured above, provides the perfect setting for stargazing.

SAN LUIS VALLEY — During the SLV Museum Association’s awarding and hosting of the Colorado Rural Academy for Tourism (CRAFT) workshop earlier this year, dark skies was identified as one of the leading topics of interest to preserve these natural and cultural resources.

At the same time, Charley Ellison with the Dark Skies of the Wet Mountain Valley approached Kairina Danforth, mayor of Crestone, about a dark sky collaboration between their towns. Thus, the idea of a dark sky tour of Colorado was born.

This idea has formed a partnership between the SLV Museum Association (SLVMA), Huerfano County Tourism, Headwaters Alliance and Custer County Tourism and the creation of a dark sky tour of Colorado.

While this tour is in its infancy, organization leaders plan to expand participation and geographic representation.

The launch of the dark sky tour comes after the partners secured the matching funds and were subsequently awarded the Colorado Tourism Office $25,000 Marketing Matching Grant in early September. 

Kat Olance, president of the SLV Museum Association, said Colorado Tourism Office's marketing grants are awarded to projects that present unique and innovative projects that look to promote the state and a region as a tourism destination.  This collaborative Dark Sky group looks to provide the dark sky experience and all that encompasses to visitors to our part of Colorado.

The SLVMA has been able to participate in the CTO-CRAFT program, oral histories project (more later) and other tourism marketing efforts for our region due to the additional financial contributions from participating communities and organizations such as the Alamosa Marketing District, Rio Grande County Tourism, the member museums of the SLVMA (www.museumtrail.org/museums), the town of Crestone, and the SLV Tourism Association, the project is set to begin.

This tour’s beginnings will connect several Colorado locations known for their dark skies and incredible stargazing opportunities including Creede, Lake City, Crestone, La Veta, Cuchara, Westcliffe, Silver Cliff and the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. The tour will also highlight dark sky events, develop day-time itineraries so visitors may take advantage of all the tourism assets the destinations have to offer, and encourage the conservation and preservation of all of Colorado’s natural and cultural resources.

In the Colorado Tourism Office’s region of the Mystic San Luis Valley the counties of Saguache, Mineral, Alamosa and Huerfano will be included, as well as Hinsdale County within the Mountains and Mesas region; and Custer County in Pikes Peak Wonders. Visitors will find International Dark-Sky Association designated communities, areas just starting the designation process such as Crestone and Creede, and those already designated including Westcliffe/Silver Cliff and the Great Sand Dunes. All of these communities are unified by their high elevation and low humidity, allowing for some of the best stargazing in the world.

There is also a potential Dark Sky Reserve in the works. The brainchild and passion of Danforth as she started work on Crestone’s dark-sky certification through the International Dark-Sky Association. Subsequent talks with the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve; Baca National Wildlife Refuge; Rio Grande National Forest, San Isabel National Forest; Wet Mountain National Forest; and the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness together with Saguache County, Orient Land Trust, and Trinchera Ranch has resulted in work on a designation to include large swaths of the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range. This reserve has the potential to be the largest dark sky reserve in the world.  We’ll be sending out more info as we get it.

If anyone’s organization or community are planning to host dark sky/star-gazing events, please let the SLV Museum Association and the SLV Tourism Association know the details so we can promote your efforts at [email protected] and [email protected]. Amateur and professional events are both encouraged and sought after throughout the Mystic San Luis Valley.

Kat Olance, president SLV Museum Association, SLV Tourism Association, www.sanluisvalley.org, www.museumtrail.org, 719-480-9161.