Mar 262015
 

For many centuries, dark skies filled with billions of twinkling stars was taken as a matter of fact.  Shepherds, nomads, farmers and travelers used the sky to guide them and teach them.  The movements and cycles of the heavens were well-known and closely observed by all.  But, as populations have grown, first candle light and now electric lights have slowly started to block out the night sky with their light domes.

Until recently, there were only eight places in the world “certified” as “Dark Sky Communities” by the International Dark-Skies Association headquartered in Tucson, Arizona.  They are:

  • Flagstaff, Arizona
  • Borregos Springs, California
  • Isle of Sark, Channel Islands
  • Homer Glen, Illinois
  • Isle of Coll, Scotland
  • Dripping Springs, Texas
  • Beverly Shores, Indiana
  • Sedona, Arizona

This month, my town of Westcliffe joined  by its next-door neighbor Silver Cliff were awarded the certificate making them the ninth on the list.  In their press release, the IDA wrote: “In recent years, the dark night skies over the towns have come to be recognized by locals as a natural resource worth preserving.  situated between the Wet Mountain and Sangre de Cristo mountain ranges, the towns are protected from the most significant source of light pollution in the region coming from cities along Interstate 25 to the east.  The small population, largely rural setting, and limited outdoor lighting have kept the night skies over Westcliffe and Silver Cliff in relatively pristine condition.  To keep it this way, each town council adopted a comprehensive outdoor lighting ordinance.”

Being an avid amateur astronomer, the dark skies over the valley was a big selling point for us when we were searching for a place to retire.  I grew up on a rural farm in Texas and enjoyed the dark sky there and missed it when we moved to town and since then working in large cities.  There is nothing like being able to roll your telescope out on the garage pad and explore the wonders of a “pristine” night sky.”

Getting certified was no small task.  The local Dark Skies Association worked for years to insure that the small towns of Westcliffe and Silver Cliff used the proper lighting and that the community was aware of the amazing natural resource we have here.  “I am glad we went through the whole effort,” said local Dark Skies president, Jim Bradburn, in an interview with the Wet Mountain Tribune.  “I am relieved that we were approved and now I am busy writing thank you notes to everyone who helped.”

In addition to the communities, the IDA also recognizes Parks.  Here is that distinguished list:

 

 

Name

Location

Year Established

Tier

Natural Bridges National Monument

Utah, USA

2007

Gold

Cherry Springs State Park

Pennsylvania, USA

2008

Gold

Galloway Forest Park

Scotland, UK

2009

Gold

Zselic National Landscape Protection Area

Hungary

2009

Gold

Goldendale Observatory Park

Washington, USA

2010

Gold

Clayton Lake State Park

New Mexico, USA

2010

Gold

Hortobagy National Park

Hungary

2011

Gold

Observatory Park

Ohio, USA

2011

Gold

The Headlands

Michigan, USA

2011

Gold

Big Bend National Park

Texas, USA

2012

Gold

Death Valley National Park

California, USA

2013

Gold

Chaco Culture National Historical Park

New Mexico, USA

2013

Gold

Northumberland National Park and Kielder Water Forest Park

Northumberland, England

2013

Gold

Eifel International Dark Sky Park

North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany

2014

Provisional

Mayland Community College Blue Ridge Observatory and Star Park

North Carolina, USA

2014

Gold

Parashant International Night Sky Province

 Arizona, USA

 2014

Gold

Hovenweep National Monument

Utah-Colorado, USA

2014

Gold

Texas, USA

2014 Gold
 Enchanted Rock State Natural Area Texas, USA

2014 Gold
Oracle State Park Arizona, USA 2014

 

A gold star represents an exceptionally pristine sky coupled with dark skies education and preservation of the nighttime environment.  I’m sure that the ancient Native Americans would be shocked by the light pollution in the Americas today.  As I have joked in past articles, the night sky was their HD, 3D, big screen.

 

 

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