The state recreation area at Merritt Reservoir, renowned for its Sandhills location and providing spectacular astronomical views, has been certified as an International Dark Sky Park.

Merritt has hosted the annual Nebraska Star Party each summer for 29 years, where professional and amateur astronomers converge to take advantage of a sky free of light pollution.

International Dark Sky Parks are parks that are publicly- or privately-owned spaces protected for natural conservation that implement good outdoor lighting and provide dark sky programs for visitors.

Merritt is the first Nebraska site certified by the International Dark-Sky Association. The 9,000-acre park southwest of Valentine in Cherry County is known for its excellent fishing, boating and camping opportunities.

“This is an exciting first for our state,” said Executive Director of Nebraska Tourism John Ricks. “The Dark Sky Park will attract people to experience the awe and splendor of our night skies, adding yet another excellent, unique experience to visiting Nebraska.”

Nebraska Game and Parks Commission Director Tim McCoy added, “We’re thrilled and honored to have Merritt Reservoir be given this prestigious distinction. It’s another great reason to visit this well-known park.”

The IDA’s International Dark Sky Places Program was founded in 2001 to encourage communities, parks and protected areas around the world to preserve and protect dark sites through responsible lighting policies and public education.

The program has five types of designations: International Dark Sky Communities, International Dark Sky Parks, International Dark Sky Reserves, International Dark Sky Sanctuaries and Urban Night Sky Places.

Nebraska Tourism and the Nebraska Game and Parks partnered to earn the international designation.

Learn more about Merritt Reservoir SRA at A park entry permit is required of each vehicle entering the park.

For more information about the IDA, visit For more information on Nebraska Tourism, visit

Top photo: The Milky Way and a blanket of other stars glow in the night sky at Merritt Reservoir State Recreation Area. Photo by Justin Haag, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. (Tap image to enlarge)

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