Cattle Point a shield from city, a window to universe

Park seeks rare designation as urban star park

For those looking to wish upon a star, Cattle Point might be just the place to do it.

The popular picnic and birdwatching destination is on the radar of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada for designation as one of the nation’s dark sky sites – there are 14 countryside “dark sky preserves” but only one other urban star park.

“It is very rare in an urban area to have a pristine sky environment that is not tainted by light pollution. Cattle Point is quite extraordinary in that regard,” said Mark Bohlman of RASC’s Victoria chapter. “It has been a passive recreation area for Oak Bay residents and astronomers to look at the sky – our goal is just to preserve that resource and preserve the night sky quality.”

Bohlman said the absence of artificial outdoor lights and trees blocking the glow of the city, in combination with a clear unobstructed view of the sky, are the big reasons why the site would be a good fit as an urban star park. The 14 dark sky preserves are primarily amid national parks, and the single existing urban star park is Irving Nature Park in Saint John, N.B.

There is currently no timetable or even a guarantee that RASC will designate Cattle Point a star park, Bohlman hopes the next few months bring good news to the sky watching community.

“There is no investment, no capital expenditure, and you have this ocean-side oasis protected by trees that has very little light pollution. It is quite unique,” Bohlman noted.

Bohlman, an astronomy enthusiast who got his first telescope as a child, first presented Oak Bay council with the proposal last October and it was ultimately approved in January. The Victoria branch of RASC now awaits word from the Toronto-based federal arm for final approval.

“Wow. What an opportunity. We do have a precious landscape to look after and to work in partnership with the RASC to make this accessible,” said Oak Bay Coun. Tara Ney. “I think that is precious, it helps us all to feel more connected with our universe.”

While the process is ongoing, Ney is excited about the potential designation that could bring new awareness to one of the region’s most popular shoreline destinations and would join a rarified group of Canadian communities. The only star park in British Columbia is a dark sky preserve, McDonald Park Dark-Sky Park, in the Fraser Valley between Abbotsford and Chilliwack.

“It (could) enhance this cherished landscape that is unique and precious for its ecological returns to community,” Ney said. “We have a place for citizens from all over Canada who can come to connect with our stars and our galaxies right in an urban dwelling.”

For more on Canadian dark sky sites, see rasc.ca/dark-sky-site-designations.