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ENC Celebrates Local Dark Sky Accreditation

20th February 2024
Enterprise North Canterbury (ENC) is celebrating a five-year-long process that has culminated in the Oxford Forest Conservation Area becoming an accredited International Dark Sky Place with Darksky International.
ENC Celebrates Local Dark Sky Accreditation

Oxford Forest Conservation Area received the accreditation in January 2024, joining over 200 other accredited places in 22 countries who have all demonstrated robust community support for dark sky advocacy and a commitment to protecting the night from light pollution.

The accreditation comes five years after the Oxford business community approached ENC to identify a key tourism attraction in the area.

“After a community asset mapping exercise back in 2019, we identified the Oxford Observatory as an underutilised asset that could be assisted in meeting its objectives of providing education to more people while also attracting more people to visit Oxford,” explains Miles Dalton, ENC’s Business Support Manager.

“The Oxford Observatory team were open to the idea of growing the use of their facility, but also wanted to look at an opportunity of establishing a dark skies astro-tourism trail.”

Working closely with several observatory volunteers over the following four years, ENC supported the observatory team with plan writing, council procedures and business training before Covid put the brakes on the initiative.

“We kicked things off again in 2022, supporting the new observatory committee by funding a 2023 social and economic development study that was essential to achieve their dark sky accreditation application.

“ENC was thrilled to learn that the Oxford Forest Conservation Area achieved dark sky accreditation in January 2024 after years of work towards this exciting goal.”

Amber Harrison, Dark Sky Places Program Manager at Darksky International said, “This effort is an excellent example of how collaboration, education, and outreach can raise awareness and inspire change at the community level. Economic development, marketing strategies, and district lighting plans are now being developed with an eye towards dark sky conservation for the benefit of the community and future generations. Such outcomes are a goal of the Dark Sky Places certification programme.”

Oxford Dark Sky committee president Raul Elias-Drago says the accreditation has boosted Oxford’s tourism potential. “Oxford offers one of the darkest and most accessible dark sky experiences in New Zealand. Here, you can enjoy an amazingly dark sky and peer straight into the Galactic Centre – all of this, less than an hour from downtown Christchurch, the Canterbury ski fields and an international airport.” He adds that, given the choice in accommodation, restaurants, shopping, astronomy and outdoor activities, the Oxford Dark Sky group expects Oxford to feature on many weekend and travel itineraries.

With plans to connect to other Canterbury dark sky sites, the initial idea of an astro-tourism trail is well on its way to reality.

“With accreditation now issued, the economic and social impact of this project on the Waimakariri District has the potential to be huge,” says Mr Dalton. “The economic development study carried out in 2023 showed that accreditation such as this could lead to as many as 50,600 additional visitors to Waimakariri each year.

“As the economic development agency for North Canterbury, ENC looks forward to continuing its support of the Oxford Dark Sky committee as they progress this project even further.”

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