Reducing light pollution
Dark Sky applicants must prove that their skies are indeed dark. Sky Meadows, which sits on the western edge of the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, just barely made the cut. While its night sky offers great stargazing, there’s also a noticeable glow on the horizon from the subdivisions and shopping centers of Gainesville, about 30 miles to the southeast.
Scores of outdoor light fixtures needed to be replaced, and volunteers had to take numerous nighttime light readings to prove the park qualified. All said, the process to certify the 1,800-acre preserve took more than 5 years.
The park even switched out its restroom lights with red bulbs. Previously, a quick bathroom break would expose evening visitors to glaring florescent light, ruining their night vision for up to 30 minutes and making it much more difficult to see stars. Red lighting, by contrast, has minimal effect on night vision. That’s why star-party volunteers distributed small pieces of red nylon to visitors to shield their phones from emitting light.
Virginia Tech student Lora Callahan knows about the challenges. For her Girl Scout Gold Award project, she led a multiyear effort to earn Dark Sky status for James River State Park, near Lynchburg, which was granted in 2019. It took several years to research the zoning and lighting ordinances near the park and to build wooden shields to reflect outdoor lights downward. “That was a Mom-and-me project,” she said.
Callahan, who also offered advice on the Sky Meadows application, said the project helped inspire her career goal to earn a law degree and work on environmental policy. Dark skies, she said, are taken for granted until they disappear. And then it will be too late. “You can’t really go backward.”