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Reveling in our dark night sky

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By Martha Ferguson
Special to The Sopris Sun

Editor’s note: Governor Jared Polis signed a proclamation establishing June 2023 as “Dark Sky Month” in Colorado in recognition of the growing problem of light pollution. Appropriately, the Snowmass Capitol Creek Caucus is pushing for darker skies and designation within the Roaring Fork Watershed.

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A little more than 100 years ago, anyone could walk outside at night, even in a city, and see the Milky Way arch across the sky like a crystalline rainbow. The ability to see thousands of stars was an absolute part of life on any given evening. But now, with more than half the world’s population living in cities, many people living in over-lit landscapes have forgotten or never experienced the wonderment of pristinely dark skies. As a matter of fact, light pollution is currently estimated to cover around 80% of the entire globe!

Why should we care, you may ask? Well… the rhythms of life on Earth have been orchestrated for millennia by the consistent diurnal/nocturnal patterns of light and dark, day and night. Disruption to these patterns — beginning around 1880 with the advent of electric light bulbs — has impacted the ecological balances of almost every living creature. Humans, animals, birds, insects… even coral have been negatively affected by too much light.

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The human species has developed a myriad of issues linked to the disruption of our ever-important circadian rhythm. The wild kingdom is experiencing survival challenges and extinctions at an alarming rate because, in part, age-old patterns to ensure survival have been interrupted with new and bright light patterns erasing cloak-of-night protections many depend upon.

Light pollution has become a pervasive issue the world over, with glare, light trespass and skyglow stemming predominantly from the excessive use of outdoor artificial lighting. We are quickly turning our nights into day, 24/7.

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Old Snowmass has spearheaded an initiative within our community in Pitkin County through an international group helping many cities, towns, communities, preserves and national parks to put the brakes on light pollution. The International Dark Sky Association (IDA) oversees a rigorous program for interested places on the planet to address light pollution via simple means — smart lighting! We aim to be the first community in the Valley to earn IDA International Dark Sky Community designation (, joining other Colorado communities like Ridgway, Crestone and Norwood.

Turning off lights, the use of simple tools such as light shields or down-lit fixtures, informed selections for light bulbs/LEDs, the use of timers — all of these help to reduce light pollution. Another piece of the puzzle is to understand and embrace local lighting ordinances that provide safe lighting at night while curtailing ill-considered or badly placed night fixtures that invade neighboring homes as well as local wilderness areas and the night sky.

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The Snowmass Capitol Creek Caucus is endeavoring to hold to our current darkness levels and stem any further light pollution in our neck of the woods — maybe even reducing current levels down a notch. This will happen through education and awareness campaigns and thus we are planning some fun and interesting activities and programs open to all!

For example: information on how to buy the right LED bulbs for specific locations and uses (with light spectrums, lumens, kelvins and all those other confusing terms explained). We will be sponsoring a Van Gogh-style Starry Night Star Party in the near future with experts helping us connect to the celestial night using telescopes and the naked eye. We will offer astrophotography and moon gardening classes with local masters. We will invite speakers and environmental leaders up- and downvalley and on national levels to educate and excite us about the simple benefits that come with darkness, including the summer song of crickets and hoot of the owl, moonshadows and starlit snow… or simply listening to the silence of the dark. How about a good night’s sleep? Wonderful essentials in our world can easily disappear.

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Nearly all U.S. national parks, monuments, as well as many other destinations, playgrounds and even small little towns who value their darkness, have done the work of curtailing excessive light pollution and achieving IDA designation, permanently protecting starry nights overhead. We are working to join them, protecting our own favorite backyard in Old Snowmass and encouraging other communities in our valley to look into and become involved as well.

More information can be found at or soon on our website, which is being populated with local information under the Dark Sky heading, at

Tags: #Dark Skies #ecology #International Dark Sky Association #light pollution #Martha Ferguson #Nature #Pete McBride #Snowmass Capitol Creek Caucus
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