Tuesday, 15 Jun 2021

Colorado dark sky towns: 4 more added to the list

Colorado’s push to combat light pollution so that more residents can see stars at night has gained momentum with four more towns – including Naturita, Nucla and Crestone — winning dark sky designations and others expanding their efforts.

The advocates of also establishing two broader regional dark zones in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and west of the San Juan Mountains extending to the Utah border are drawing support from ranchers and farmers concerned about losing “pioneer heritage,” said Bob Grossman, a retired University of Colorado atmospheric scientist in Norwood who is helping to lead the push.

“If a big new development shows up right next to you and starts turning up lights uncontrolled, you’re not going to like it and your cows are not going to like it,” Grossman said.

International Dark Sky Association evaluators certified Crestone as the world’s 31st Dark Sky Community in May, and are planning announce a joint designation for Naturita and Nucla in southwestern Colorado. Another town, not yet revealed, will receive certification in June, officials said.

Achieving dark sky status requires measuring light levels, overhauling public lights to reduce glare and the spread of light onto private property and getting residents to dial back and redirect their own outdoor lights.

“Protecting and preserving our natural night sky is a new frontier in environmental preservation as communities deal with increasing growth,” Crestone Mayor Kairina Danforth said. Her town backs creating the world’s largest regional Dark Sky Reserve that would encompass more than 3,000 square miles of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and San Luis Valley.

The designation of Naturita and Nucla pushes the number of dark sky towns in the United States to 25. And Salida officials recently voted to start measuring light levels and seek certification.

Nucla resident Deb Stueber proposed what some advocates see as a simpler approach: “Colorado should become the first Dark Sky State.”

“Smart lighting and proper use of LEDs (light-emitting diodes) would solve a lot of problems,” Stueber said, pointing to studies that show smarter lighting can save money, waste less energy, improve visibility and improve human health and wildlife.

“There’s just no downside,” she said. “It doesn’t take away freedoms, except if you like shining obnoxious light needlessly up into the sky or outward onto your neighbor’s property.”

Colorado’s movement began in 2015 in Custer County, where towns of Westcliffe and Silver Cliff received a joint certification, followed by Norwood in 2019 and Ridgway in 2020. The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Mesa Verde National Park, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Dinosaur National Monument and Jackson Lake State Park in Colorado also have been certified as dark sky places.

Gov. Jared Polis has supported dark sky preservation and was mulling a declaration of June as Colorado Dark Sky Month, IDA officials said. A state “experience the night” campaign promotes stargazing tourism.

“Colorado is trying to preserve a legacy of the West, and more towns are realizing the value of going dark sky for economics and health,” Colorado IDA chapter chairman Ryan Parker said. “We have massive regions now that want to go dark sky. And even in cities more residents are becoming aware of a need to turn off their lights because of how light is affecting nature, including migratory birds.”

Around the West, national parks widely have achieved dark sky designations. State lawmakers in Texas, Wyoming, New Mexico and Oregon have passed dark sky legislation. And Utah advocates are pushing for creation of a 20,000-square-mile Southeastern Utah Night Sky Reserve spanning nine national parks and monuments, more than a dozen towns and much of the Navajo Nation.

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