DARK SKY NEWS: Introducing Lake Placid’s Dark Sky Initiative

Lake Placid Business Association President Marc Galvin, left, listens to John Winkler explain the local Dark Sky Initiative on Tuesday, Sept. 12, during the LPBA meeting at the Lake Placid Baptist Church. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

One of Lake Placid’s unique natural resources is polluted. But the town’s newly formed Dark Sky Committee believes that together we can fix it.

Many of the positive developments in the community over the past decade have come with unintended negative consequences on an important natural resource, the Adirondack night sky. The amount and brightness of lighting used in Lake Placid has increased over time, and some of this lighting goes where it was not intended to go — into the night sky, and into the houses of residents. This unintentional spillage into homes can cause serious human health issues, and spillage into the sky diminishes our ability to see the stars. As just one example, the ongoing transition from incandescent bulbs to LED lighting is good for energy efficiency but can increase light pollution, as LED lights are typically brighter and more blue than the incandescent lights they replace. In addition, some enhancements to the town’s infrastructure — for example the refurbishment of the Olympic Speedskating Oval, which included a major upgrade to its lighting to accommodate television broadcast at the FISU Games — also inadvertently create light pollution throughout the town.

The good news is that this pollution is completely and easily reversible — and that this can be accomplished without compromising the intended purpose of the lights that are currently causing it.

Our unique resource, the Adirondack Park, is one of the few places in the eastern United States with truly dark night skies. In much of the Adirondacks, the Milky Way is visible on any clear night. Lake Placid, as probably the best known and most tourist-friendly town in the Adirondacks, is positioned to be the premier destination in the eastern U.S. for people who value the night sky — if we can reduce our town’s light pollution.

Dark Sky Initiative

The Lake Placid-North Elba Community Development Commission has formed a Dark Sky Committee to consider ways the town could reverse some of our unintentional light pollution and ensure that Lake Placid residents and visitors can experience the beauty of the Adirondack night sky for generations to come.

Members of the Dark Sky Committee introduced the initiative with a table at Lake Placid Community Day in June.

The table attracted a steady stream of Lake Placid residents concerned with light pollution. Residents expressed an interest in being able to see the stars at night, and many noted a concern that more and brighter nighttime lights have been added to the community in recent years. Some highlighted an inability to practice astronomy or take night photographs due to light pollution, and others were just concerned with getting a good night’s sleep. Bright lighting and glare at the speedskating oval and the bobsled run were cited by many as an issue.

A darker night sky in Lake Placid would have many benefits for residents and the environment:

– Light pollution may harm human health. Studies suggest that artificial light at night negatively impacts human health by increasing risk of sleep disorders, depression, cancer and more.

– Light pollution is bad for wildlife. Plants and animals depend on Earth’s daily light and dark cycle to govern life-sustaining behaviors. Research shows that artificial light at night has adverse and even deadly effects on many species.

– Light pollution wastes energy. As much as 50% of outdoor lighting is wasted.

– Light pollution robs us of our heritage. Our ancestors experienced a night sky that inspired science, religion, philosophy, art and literature.

In addition, there is an untapped economic opportunity to attract “astrotourists” — people who travel to places with a dark sky to view or photograph the stars. Lake Placid has a real opportunity to bring additional revenue into our community by appealing to astrotourists in the eastern U.S. But to do this, we will need to reduce our light pollution and allow the Adirondack night sky to shine through over Lake Placid the way it does in the more remote parts of the Park.

The gold standard for astrotourism is certification as a Dark Sky Place by the International Dark-Sky Association. There are 29 cities, towns or villages certified by the IDA as Dark Sky Communities in the U.S., including places like Flagstaff, Arizona, and Ketchum, Idaho. All but two of these Dark Sky Communities are in the western U.S., and there are none east of Indiana. If Lake Placid could achieve this certification, our town would be the only Dark Sky Community in the eastern U.S., which would make our community the natural destination for anyone in the eastern U.S. with an interest in the night sky.

The Dark Sky Committee’s objective is to identify ways that Lake Placid can reduce the amount of light that unintentionally spills into places where it is not useful and becomes light pollution, whether this is into the sky to contribute to “sky glow” or into the windows of town residents, causing health issues. Importantly, the committee believes that this can be achieved without detracting from the intended purpose of the lighting.

The IDA lists five core lighting principles to achieve this goal:

1. Use light only if it is NEEDED.

2. Direct light so that it falls only WHERE it is needed (use shielding to direct the beam).

3. Use the MINIMUM level of brightness (measured in lumens) required for the job.

4. Use light only WHEN it is needed (use controls like timers and motion detectors).

5. Use WARM light colors (measured in Kelvin, optimal is less than 3,000K).

The Dark Sky Committee is interested in perspectives from the Lake Placid community on this topic. Questions or comments can be directed to Haley Breen (hbreen@northelba.org).

(John Winkler is the chair of the Dark Sky Committee of the Lake Placid-North Elba Community Development Commission.)

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