[Vision2020] First Dark Sky Reserve In The U.S. Could Be In Idaho

Kenneth Marcy kmmos1 at frontier.com
Fri Sep 15 19:52:40 PDT 2017


Here is an interesting idea about which I heard a blurb on the radio
this afternoon.

This story below appears to be a month old, and before the eclipse.

Perhaps it was a slow news day today, but I haven't seen a link to
today's story yet.

Don't miss the link to listen to the 4:58 audio below.



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  First Dark Sky Reserve In The U.S. Could Be In Idaho

By Matt Guilhem <http://boisestatepublicradio.org/people/matt-guilhem>
/•/ Aug 14, 2017

    Light pollution makes the Milky Way impossible to see in all but the
    darkest regions. The skies over Stanley and the surrounding
    Sawtoooth National Recreation Area are some of the darkest in the
    continental U.S.

    Light pollution makes the Milky Way impossible to see in all but the
    darkest regions. The skies over Stanley and the surrounding
    Sawtoooth National Recreation Area are some of the darkest in the
    continental U.S.
    Shutter Runner / Flickr

With up to a million people predicted to come to Idaho to watch the
solar eclipse on August 21, the sky is big business. While day turning
to night is rare to see, the night sky is a spectacle unto itself.

Listen <https://cpa.ds.npr.org/idaho/audio/2017/08/081417_DarkSkies_MG.mp3>
Click 'play' to hear the audio version of this story.

In town, you might see just a few stars, but in the wilderness – away
from the glow of the city – the sky puts on a show each night. In
Idaho’s Sawtooth National Recreation Area, one of the darkest places
left in the lower 48 states, a campaign is underway to save the pristine

The evening air is cooling off as the twilight fades to black and the
moon slips behind the Sawtooth Mountains. At a campsite just off Highway
75 a little south of Stanley, City Councilman Steve Botti is standing by
a crackling campfire with a glass of wine in his hand. He’s waiting for
it to be truly dark.

Once the sky finally transitions from deep purple to a rich black with a
host of stars starting to shimmer, Botti suggests we walk away from the
campfire “to let our eyes really adjust because even that bit of light
really makes a lot of difference,” he says.

In the high mountain valley with the Sawtooth range to the west and the
White Cloud Mountains to the east, we’re miles from the nearest town –
let alone city – that could be sending light up into the air.


  First Dark Sky Reserve In The U.S. Could Be In Idaho


A sliver of the moon hangs over large clouds as the sun goes down in the
Sawtooth Valley.
Credit Matt Guilhem / Boise State Public Radio

We walk away from the fire and go about 30 yards. Where we’re standing,
Botti’s car is blocking most of the light. He takes out what looks like
a pager and holds it up to the heavens. It beeps several times, and a
red number appears on the digital display: 21.54.

“So, 22 is considered as dark as the sky can get – no light pollution,
no sky glow – and I’ve gotten readings of 22 here in this valley,” says
Botti. The little pager he’s holding is called a sky quality meter; it
measures the darkness of the sky.

Botti is leading the effort to get this rural and rugged area designated
the first International Dark Sky Reserve in the U.S. Eleven
similarly-dark places around the world have gotten the designation, but
getting to a reserve in central Idaho is a lot easier than going to see
a couple of the other reserves in Namibia or New Zealand.

In the crisp air, our backs to the fire and our necks craned upward, the
night sky is luminous. Tens of thousands of little dots shimmer as
shooting stars streak by every few minutes. And arching over us, the
Milky Way itself is visible.

In the darkness, Botti points to the shadowy haze of the galaxy bending
over us.

“Along the arc of the Milky Way, there are dark bands within the stars
which is the galactic dust, and you can see those because the stars are
so bright,” he says.

Over the last two years, Botti has been routinely measuring the darkness
of the sky. He’s also worked to curb light pollution in Stanley to meet
strict standards and collaborated with the neighboring communities of
Sun Valley, Ketchum and Hailey to land the reserve status.

According to John Barentine, the program manager for the Arizona-based
International Dark Skies Association, of the five designations the
organization has, reserve is the most difficult to land.


The craggy Sawtooth Mountains make for stunning views in the daytime and
provide a buffer from light pollution at night.
Credit Matt Guilhem / Boise State Public Radio

Barentine says the people in this remote corner of Idaho reached out to him.

“They told me that they view the nighttime darkness and, you know, the
ability to see the Milky Way, as something that is definitive of their
part of the state and their part of the country.”

For years now, Barentine and others at the association have been
collecting sky quality readings from the Sawtooth region to gauge the
suitability of the proposed reserve.

Barentine describes the certification system as one of trust by verify:
“We trust the measurements that the applicants make from on the ground,
and we verify it by looking at data from Earth-orbiting satellites that
are looking down on the Earth at night.”

Those satellites corroborate the deep darkness Botti routinely measures
in the Sawtooths. While the Dark Skies Association’s mission is
preserving the experience of seeing an unpolluted night sky, Barentine
says gazing at myriad stars is something tourists are increasingly drawn to.

“A daytime visit to a place like the national recreation area might not
have the same degree of economic impact, so dark skies means at least an
overnight stay,” he explains.

Down the road from Stanley and over the Galena Summit is Ketchum. After
this summer’s total solar eclipse, the Wood River Valley city will be no
stranger to sky-watching tourists. As she sits on the patio of the
restaurant she runs with her husband, Ketchum Mayor Nina Jonas says
she’s bracing for record levels of visitors.


Ketchum Mayor Nina Jonas stands in her restaurant, Rickshaw, while
explaining her community's long commitment to minimizing light
pollution. Ketchum instituted its first dark skies ordinance in 1999.
Credit Matt Guilhem / Boise State Public Radio

“They’re telling us to anticipate three to four times our maximum
tourism load for a single event,” she says. “That’s very evidential of
the fact that people do come for the love of the sky.”

She’s nervous but excited for the huge influx of visitors coming to
witness the celestial spectacle. Jonas says Ketchum was an early adopter
of policies that keep the sky in mind and curb light pollution; it
passed its first Dark Skies ordinance in 1999.

As proposed, the more than 900,000-acre central Idaho dark sky reserve
would include Ketchum, Hailey and Sun Valley on the periphery with tiny
Stanley right on the edge of the core where the sky is darkest.

In the Sawtooth Valley, back at the campsite, the moon has totally set,
the air is chilly, and the heavens have gotten even clearer. It’s a
little after midnight when Steve Botti pulls out his sky quality meter
one final time before heading a few miles up the road to his home back
in Stanley.

As he holds it up, he says, “A reading of 21.75 or higher is considered
by the Dark Sky Association to be exceptionally dark.”

He pushes the button. Beep. Beep. Beep.

“21.76,” he reads on the digital display with satisfaction.

A couple years into the application process which usually takes around
three years from start finish, Botti and his partners in the neighboring
towns will soon submit their final paperwork seeking recognitions for
their skies. If it’s accepted, the country’s first International Dark
Sky Reserve could be in the Idaho backcountry as soon as next year.

/For more local news, follow the KBSX newsroom on Twitter @KBSX915

/Copyright 2017 Boise State Public Radio/

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      Related Content

    Online Community Observatory Comes To Stanley For August Eclipse

By Samantha Wright
<http://boisestatepublicradio.org/people/samantha-wright> /•/ Jun 26, 2017

The Exploratorium / NASA

Most hotels and campgrounds in Idaho along the path of the total solar
eclipse this August have been sold out for months if not years. But one
group still has campsites available near Stanley. They plan to stream
the eclipse to those who can’t make it into the backcountry.

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