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Volunteering for Dark Skies

Astro VIP scans the sky for potential targets
An Astro VIP scans the sky for potential targets as night falls upon Cedar Breaks National Monument, Utah.

The starry night sky is one of the many resources the National Park Service (NPS) is charged with protecting. The experience of a natural night sky has been humanity’s companion for eons, providing the transparency of our planet’s atmosphere at night and uncovering where we really reside. But careless use of artificial light handicaps our ability to see the cosmos. Light pollution washes out the view of the night sky for many Americans, reaching even remote national parks. Air pollution further exacerbates the scattering of light and dims the stars. Our parks provide the best opportunity for seeing a natural night sky. You, as an ambassador for night skies, can make a difference!

Stargazing programs in parks are gaining popularity, and sharing this resource with the public is a key part of the NPS mission. Amateur astronomers and those with a fondness for stargazing can help us by strengthening visitors’ connection with the night sky. Since 2007, the Astro VIP (Volunteer in Parks) program has been a tremendous success.

The NPS is seeking qualified volunteers to commit to at least four weeks during the period of March to October. Each spring we develop a list of parks seeking volunteer support. Participating parks include Acadia, Badlands, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Capitol Reef, Glacier and Glen Canyon, just to name a few. Some of these parks, particularly the smaller ones, have very limited staff where volunteers are sought to orchestrate most aspects of nighttime public programs. Other parks already have an ongoing astronomy program, but they need additional assistance and skill with telescope use. Volunteers are expected to work 32 hours per week. Your efforts will primarily address stargazing-related needs, but you may also be asked to devote time to other park needs.

The ideal applicant is gregarious, communicative, self-motivated, knowledgeable, approachable, and a good public speaker. Applicants should also be flexible, willing to learn new methods, and able to adapt to an established public program that is somewhat unlike a traditional star party. Volunteers will be expected to support the NPS mission, night sky protection, and partnerships with astronomy clubs and the community while maintaining enthusiasm and refraining from espousing political or religious viewpoints. The job will require working with crowds and a diverse public (foreign language skills a plus) in both independent and team modes. A stipend of $25 per workday is provided. Training for first-time Astro VIPs will be provided throughout the year.

Housing in the park, often small cabins, apartments, or dormitories, will be provided. If you have an RV, then that can usually be accommodated and is preferred. When the applications are in, potential schedules and assignments will be discussed with each successful applicant to provide the best fit for the volunteer. Selections will be made based on 1) knowledge of the sky, astronomical equipment, and techniques; 2) communication skills and experience working with the public; 3) availability and time commitment; and 4) references and other factors that indicate suitability for this particular program. Twelve to 20 volunteers will be selected. After your first tour of duty as an Astro VIP, we will accept time commitments shorter than four weeks.

Use this application form to apply. New applications are only accepted between January 1st and March 31st. Phone interviews of qualified applicants begin in April. Successful applicants are notified by May 1st of park selection.

Send application to:
Teresa Jiles
NPS Natural Sounds & Night Skies Division
1201 Oakridge Drive, Suite 100
Fort Collins, CO 80525-5596

Questions can be directed to Teresa Jiles, (970) 267-2183 or Chad Moore, (970) 267-7212. Or you may use the contact form and select Night Skies as the category.

General NPS volunteer program information is available by clicking here.

Our partners and fellow night sky ambassadors maintain another forum for sharing information about the Astro VIP program and other stargazing activities in parks.

Last Updated: November 14, 2012