The Goldendale Sentinel - Headlines & History since 1879

By Shelby Taylor
Reporter 

Night Sky symposium keeps light on the dark

 

Dave Ingram of the International Dark Sky Association NW Chapter.

The Gorge Night Sky Symposium at the Goldendale Observatory and the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center last week proved to be an educational experience focusing on lighting practices and preservation of the rural dark skies of the Gorge.

The evening event at the Observatory kicked off with some familiar faces of the Washington State Parks and Rep. Gina McCabe. McCabe touched on her personal experiences with the Observatory while growing up and how those fostered her growing interest in astronomy. "My parents would take me up here and then it led into taking astrophysics at Clark College and at the University of Washington," she said. "The little kids that we see in the schools, even not in school yet, are our future. And if we don't give them tools, then we don't let them use their brains."

The concept of educating children in hopes of influencing parents as well as being sole contributors to our future was a common theme during both symposiums. "I want to encourage people to think and grow," says McCabe.

Keynote speaker Paul Bogard, author of The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light and editor of Let There Be Night: Testimony on Behalf of the Dark, presented at both locations. Bogard, assistant professor at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, recently returned from giving a TED  (Technology, Entertainment, Design) talk in Bratislava, Slovakia, was a focal point for the event.

Bogard's presentation, titled Finding Solutions to Light Pollution, related dark sky issues on a local scale here in the Gorge. "I can tell you that [Goldendale's night sky] is not naturally dark anymore because you can see the lights from the surrounding cities and that's going up into the sky." he said. "One of the common misconceptions about light pollution is that it's just a city problem."

David Ingram of Dark Skies Northwest, the Northwest Chapter of the International Dark-sky Association (IDA), was another featured speaker during the event. "We talk about the negative effects on human health, wildlife, safety, and the culture of it," said Ingram. The IDA is the recognized authority on light pollution and is the leading organization combating light pollution worldwide. Ingram touched primarily on the effect of astronomy and dark skies on both the young generation of our society and the lasting effect of being able to see the galaxy on people in general.

These individuals accrue the potential to become future educators, scientists, astronomers, and philosophers. "If they understand the resource [the night sky], the next thing you hope is that they love it," Ingram said. "And then if they love it, they're going to go home and they're going to want to protect it. That's the philosophy here."

You'll find the Goldendale Observatory on a list of just 38 dark sky parks in the world, but there is still a need for maintenance and protection of this resource. Recent studies have shown that these registered parks also increase astro-tourism for the community. "Astro-tourism is becoming increasingly popular in Europe and the U.S.-a multi-million dollar industry that's growing. This in turn increases interest in International Dark Sky Places and efforts to control light pollution locally." said Ingram. There are only 14 international dark sky communities in the world, with 10 in the U.S., three in the UK, and one in Canada.

There were multiple speakers, vendors, astronomers/dark-sky enthusiasts, and LED lighting professionals at the event with a wide range of focus for the speakers. These included speakers such as Dr. Elizabeth Perkin of Willamette University who discussed the effects of light pollution on river and riparian ecosystems, to Rob Leonard, a Solid State Lighting industry professional who spoke about LED Adaptive Lighting Controls.

In all, the event fixated on the idea of energy efficient lighting options while preserving the rural dark sky in the Columbia River Gorge.

Jonathan Lewis, Renewable Energy Division Director of Hire Electric, was the spokesperson of the event. "It's not that they want our town to be dark," he said. "They want our sky to be dark."

The Goldendale Observatory became recognized as an international dark sky park in 2010, thanks to Steve Stout, previous Director of the Observatory for 32 years.

Dr. Elizabeth Perkin on the effects of light pollution on river and riparian ecosystems.

Upon this acceptance, the Washington State Parks Sustainability Plan stated a commitment to "prevent outdoor light pollution. All lights have covers over the top and the only illuminated area is below the light." (But) there has consistently been a concern about many outdoor lights of private residences and businesses in the City of Goldendale and the Klickitat Valley affecting the dark sky environment.

The plan also commits to, "Protect Goldendale Observatory State Park from light pollution sources outside the park. Park staff and volunteers shall use various communication techniques to educate the general public, park neighbors and local government officials about the importance of preserving, protecting and enhancing the dark night sky environment in the vicinity of the park."

 

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