Dimming the sky glow
Initiative begins to fight light pollution in the Adirondack Park, get Lake Placid certified as a Dark Sky Community
LAKE PLACID — Many residents saw the village’s planned overnight power outage last week as a necessary inconvenience, just as kids were going back to school. Others saw the stars. And they liked it.
“When Main Street went out, you saw the stars beautifully standing right in the middle of the road,” said Heather Clark of the Palace Theatre, who was at the movie theater at the time.
The power outage was planned from 10 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 6 to 6 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 7 in the 12946 zip code. It was necessary to give National Grid a chance to work on their transmission line from Ray Brook to Lake Placid, according to village Electric Superintendent Kimball Daby.
Clark’s comments were made Tuesday morning, Sept. 12, during the Lake Placid Business Association meeting at the Lake Placid Baptist Church. John Winkler was giving a presentation to LPBA members about the recently formed Dark Sky Initiative, which aims to lessen light pollution in the village of Lake Placid.
“It is a reversible form of pollution,” he said.
Winkler told the News on Monday, Sept. 11 that there was a “buzz” — in a positive way — after the power outage because so many people were able to see the stars from the heart of Lake Placid when the lights went out.
“I’m not on Facebook, but people were saying that Facebook was a little bit lit up with people saying how nice it was to go out in their backyard in the village of Lake Placid and actually see the Milky Way,” he said. “It’s exactly what we want. A, to be able to see the night sky, but B — and, to me, kind of more important — is taking away some of the negative effects of light pollution on folks who live in the village.”
Winkler is using that buzz to get the word out about the Dark Sky Initiative, first speaking to the Lake Placid Business Association, and soon he’ll be talking to the Rotary Club of Lake Placid.
“I think that people being excited about the night sky is an awesome catalyst to keep the awareness going,” he said.
Winkler moved to the Adirondack Loj Road outside the village five years ago.
“For the 15 years prior to that, as my kids were growing up … we would come to the Adirondack Mountain Club Loj and stay there every August for a couple of weeks,” he said Monday. “And just being able to walk around at night with no headlamp — by the light of the moon or sometimes by the light of the stars — was totally eye opening.”
As soon as he moved here, Winkler enjoyed seeing the stars from his home during the warm weather months, but during the winter, he was in for a shock.
“When we moved up here, and I started to see the glow from the (Mount) Van Hoevenberg cross-country skiing center, from the bobrun, and seeing on cloudy days Lake Placid glowing there in the west, it started to kind of bug me that we weren’t respecting that resource,” he said.
So when Lake Placid-North Elba Community Development Commission officials decided to add a Dark Sky Committee to its ranks, Winkler raised his hand to lead the group, which now has about a dozen members. He volunteered, he said, because it’s a worthwhile cause.
At the latest Dark Sky Committee meeting, members ratified four goals:
1. Broaden awareness of light pollution and its impact on the community.
2. Educate the community on how to prevent and reverse light pollution.
3. Create a community that is attractive to those who wish to pursue activities under a dark sky.
4. Pursue certification of Lake Placid as a Dark Sky Community.
Winkler calls that last goal the “holy grail” of their mission — becoming a Dark Sky Community from the International Dark-Sky Association. Currently there are 29 Dark Sky Communities in the United States, and none of them are east of Beverly Shores, Indiana, a town of 600 residents on the shore of Lake Michigan.
“That would be amazing for the town as a marketing piece,” Winkler said. “We’re sitting here in the darkest place on the East Coast — the Adirondack Park — and we have this huge natural resource that we can take advantage of if we get the word out and give the astronomer types and night sky photographer types a reason to come to Lake Placid.”
The IDA’s mission is to restore the nighttime environment and protect communities and wildlife from light pollution. Founded in 1988, the organization is based in Tucson, Arizona, and it has become the globally recognized authority on light pollution issues and night sky conservancy.
Light pollution is defined as the human-made alteration of outdoor light levels from those occurring naturally.
“When we over-light, fail to use timers and sensors or use the wrong color of light, we can negatively affect many parts of our world, including migratory birds, pollinators, sea turtles, and mammals, including humans,” the IDA website states.
The IDA offers five categories under the Dark Sky certification program: International Dark Sky Sanctuaries, International Dark Sky Reserves, International Dark Sky Parks, International Dark Sky Communities and Urban Night Sky Places.
Sanctuaries, Reserves and Parks are achieved through a conservation approach. They are pristine dark areas that provide visitors access to the night sky and must be consistent with or exceed the following criteria:
– The Milky Way is readily visible to the unaided eye.
– There are no nearby artificial light sources yielding significant glare.
– Any light domes present are dim, restricted in extent, and close to the horizon.
Dark Sky Communities and Urban Night Sky Places, on the other hand, are built environments, and they don’t necessarily provide dark skies. They do, according the IDA, “provide genuine nighttime experiences that are brought about with the use of effective lighting policies and community-friendly lighting.” Certification recognizes a community’s dedication to using light only when it is necessary “and creating an environment where people can feel safe in a public space at night.” These actions, the IDA says, “further reduce excessive and wasteful light pollution from seeping into nearby protected areas that depend on natural darkness.”
During his presentation to the Lake Placid Business Association, Winkler listed the following Dark Sky Principles that residents and business owners should follow to fight light pollution.
– USEFUL: Use light only where needed.
– TARGETED: Use shielding to avoid light spill.
– LOW LEVEL: Use the lowest light level possible.
– CONTROL: Shut lights off when not needed (use timer).
– COLOR: Use warmer light (2,700K or lower).
“Think about it,” he told the LPBA members. “Do you really need the light on your patio all day every day or all night every night? Or can you just turn that thing off or make the bulbs dimmer or really, really shield it so it’s only going when you absolutely need it?”
Inside the Adirondack Park’s boundary are 6 million acres of land and water. It’s about the size of Vermont. And 45% of the Park is owned by the state of New York — protected as part of the Forest Preserve.
With all that green forest and blue water, the Park can be seen clearly from space. During the day, it is a sea of green, surrounded by gray shades of development. During the night, it is a blue mass, surrounded by the glow of development.
Yet, at night, the three largest communities in the Adirondack Park — the Tri-Lakes villages of Lake Placid, Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake — and the hamlet of Ray Brook in the town of North Elba, where state and federal prisons are located, can easily be spotted. They are glowing.
The Lake Placid-North Elba Community Development Commission’s Dark Sky Initiative aims to take a dimmer to that glow, at least in the village and town. Known as the home of the 1932 and 1980 Olympic Winter Games and a multi-sport town, Winkler and his committee members hope that New York’s Olympic village will one day become well known for its astrotourism as well. The dark sky program will be part of the new comprehensive plan for the village and town.
“The first step is to get the community to buy into the idea that this is a good thing to try to do,” Winkler said, “and then get people to voluntarily comply, in addition to getting the town and the village to adopt some lighting ordinances into the land use code.”