Preserve Our Dark Sky
We recently spoke with Joe Kaffl, a resident of the Hillsboro area of Pocahontas County, about the Dark Sky designation awarded to this area and about the concerns many area residents have that the indiscriminate use of bright outdoor lights is reducing our unique view of the area’s nighttime sky.
Joe, can you tell our listeners a little about yourself?
“I retired from the Army about three years ago, and I moved down here permanently, and I have been spending time here since the 1980’s. Astronomy has been one of my interests, and one of the unique things about this area are the dark skys we enjoy.”
What is the dark sky program?
“It’s an effort to preserve the unique dark skies we enjoy in our area that is rather unique on the East Coast. Most of that region is plagued with massive amounts of light pollution that make it only possible to see the brightest stars. In addition to great outdoor recreation opportunities, we have dark skies that most city folks have not experienced in hundreds of years. If you look up on a clear summer night you can see the Milky Way, and many other stars. Observing a meteor shower in our area reveals many that would not be visible from areas with large amounts of light pollution. On October 18, 2021 the Watoga State Park and the Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park were declared as international dark sky parks. This designation is also a draw for tourists and helps the local economy.”
What can people do to help this effort?
“Consider your outdoor lights, is a lot of the light they produce directed upward where it provides no benefits. Putting shades on lights to reduce this can make a difference. Do your lights look like the surface of the sun and are over kill. Do you run dawn to dusk lights? You might want to consider a timer or even better a motion detector and reducing your lighting intensity. With cost of electricity on the rise you might be surprised at your savings. The parks modified their lights at a fairly low cost.”
How would you answer if someone says that this a free country I want to run outside lights?
“Well as much as I would like to convince you to reduce your lighting I respect your property rights, one of the great things about this area. If you want to light up your house like a giant high rise in New York City it is your right but please consider other options. You probably would not put used motor oil in your favorite fishing hole. Light pollution just turns us into another area of urban sprawl and destroys something that makes our area special.”
What is the biggest single cause of light pollution in our area?
“Any outside lighting that shines upward. A good example is the prison at Denmar. The lights from the prison produce what is referred to as a light dome that creates an area of light pollution for several miles. A lot of this is from un-shaded lights that point skyward. A number of neighbors hope the prison leadership will become good dark sky neighbors and modify their lighting with no impact on the security of the facility. The cost to do this is not very high. This improvement would have a significant impact on reducing local light pollution.”
How can someone who wants to get involved with astronomy get started?
“Lots of phone apps help you find objects in the sky and let you know when meteor showers peak. It takes about 20 minutes in darkness for eyes to become fully dark adapted. During the summer a blanket and clear sky is all you need. A flashlight with a red lens will help maintain your dark adeptness’. The Watoga Foundation also sponsors a star party in September, check out their websites for dates. The local library also has astronomy kits with binoculars and other references. One safety fact is never ever look at the sun with a set of binoculars or telescope.”
Thank you, Joe. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
“I hope folks that have listened to this story will join the effort to protect our dark skys, they really make our area unique.”