Buckle up everybody...the next frontier for Carteret County may well be “astrotourism.” However, liftoff is no longer a requirement.

Now, one can become an astrotourist while keeping his or her feet planted firmly on the ground at all times.

The late Dr. Eduardo Fayos-Solà of Valencia, Spain, who was considered a world pioneer in the field of tourism education, helped transform the concept of “astrotourism.”

The term has moved beyond the dictionary definition of “activities by tourists traveling into space for recreation.” It now generally refers to “tourism that the uses the natural resource of unpolluted night skies for astronomical, cultural or environmental activities,” Dr. Fayos-Solà said.

His colleague Cipriano Marín of the Spanish Canary Islands said: “Astrotourism opens new opportunities of bridging science and tourism, motivating alliances for starry nights, science, culture and nature.”

Editors of the Encyclopedia of Tourism, published by Springer International in Switzerland, note that “the night sky has played a key role in the development of civilizations....”

Indeed. The U.S. National Parks Service (NPS) reports: “The popularity of stargazing programs, night walks, full moon hikes and...(the like) have become an economic resource. Visitor facilities in communities surrounding national parks are finding that stargazing activities draw more tourists and tend to increase the length of stay and the corresponding economic benefit to those communities.”

“The economic value of night skies should come as no surprise,” the NPS noted. Economist Adam Smith of Edinburgh, Scotland, who lived from 1723-90, once wrote: “Of all the phenomena of nature, the celestial appearances are, by the greatness and beauty, the most universal objects of the curiosity of mankind.”

“In some areas of the United States, such as the Colorado Plateau of the southwestern United States, astrotourism is more than an idea, it is a current economic driver,” the NPS said.

Professors David Mitchell and Terrel Gallaway of Missouri State University have studied dark skies in this region. Roughly, it is centered on the “Four Corners” – the quadripoint where the states of Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico meet.

They have calculated that astrotourism on the Colorado Plateau “is already a multi-billion dollar industry,” and “the sky is the limit” going forward.

Hey, astrotourism is not rocket science. We got this. Bring it on...to Carteret County, North Carolina. The first step in building support is to build awareness. Here goes:

Meet Valerie Stimac, who is the author of “Dark Skies: A Practical Guide to Astrotourism.” She grew up in Alaska and was inspired by frequent observations of the northern lights. Also known as the aurora borealis, the northern lights are a spectacular natural light show visible at certain times of the year in the northern hemisphere, mainly December-March.

“Astrotourism might mean going stargazing in a new place with great dark skies, traveling to see the northern lights or an eclipse, or even going to watch a rocket launch,” Stimac said.

“If it’s something you’re interested in trying, an easy overnight or weekend trip is a good way to learn more about astronomy and decide if this kind of travel is what you really love to do. And don’t forget to bundle up as it’s almost always chilly at night when stargazing.”

Cape Lookout National Seashore in Carteret County would be the perfect place for an International Dark Sky Park. The Crystal Coast Stargazers Club members totally agree.

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