For Christmas this year, my kids gave me a telescope. I live in the Sangre de Cristo mountain range in southeast Colorado and the nighttime sky here is something to behold. When I moved here, I saw the Milky Way, with my naked eye, for the first time in my life. It was amazing, to say the least!
Celestial views from spots like Farley’s Overlook and Cuchara Mountain Park measure almost totally free of artificial light at night. This makes viewing the nighttime sky in those areas one magnificent adventure.
What a blessing it is to be able to go out at night and view the Heavens in this way! We, in the Cuchara Valley, are so fortunate to have this natural resource available to us, free of charge!
Bruce Finley with the Denver Post says, “on the opposite end of the spectrum, metro Denver measures 100 times brighter than natural darkness. NASA photos of Colorado from space show an urban glow merging into some rural areas threatening our dark skies. “
“Scientists have determined that excessive artificial light causes harm to our sleep patterns and to wildlife and plants. Blue LED light, in particular disrupts sleep rhythms and may increase the risks of cancer and cardiovascular diseases. “
“However, there is a push to protect our nighttime viewing. An effort called http://www.darksky.org, out of Arizona and the Dark Sky initiative is busy helping communities, like ours, preserve our dark skies for generations to come. They guide communities through lighting overhauls and sky quality meter measuring to verify darkness. “
“With the support of our Governor, the community campaigns to expand our dark sky initiatives which currently cover more than 3,000 square miles. But, local governments must sign off to win approval. Heavily lit spots such as big box stores, gas stations, car dealers, to name a few, present the largest challenges. “
Bob Kennemer, a local Huerfano County resident says, “about two years ago, a tourism group in the San Luis Valley along with a regional museum association started to look at the concept of dark sky tourism. Finally, last year this group wrote and won a grant from the Colorado Tourism Office (CTO) to help us promote dark skies in several regional towns and in the county.”
“With Westcliffe and Silvercliff already being certified dark sky communities and the San Dunes National Park doing the same, the idea to create the Sangre De Cristo Dark Sky Reserve, (SdCDSR) was born.”
Westcliffe already has an observatory and the Cuchara Mountain Park is hoping to do the same”, says Lois Adams with the Cuchara Foundation. With donations and volunteer help the $10,000 observatory in Custer County was built.
Bob said, we have been working at SdCDSR about a year and meet monthly. Our County government, Cuchara, La Veta, and the tourism board are all in support of the SdCDSR. To that end the following needs to happen:
1. Develop and pass better and stronger county dark sky regulations in La Veta and in the County.
2. Take dark sky readings to turn into the ID proving these areas meet dark sky parameters.
3. Get local and regional astronomy groups involved with events, education, public relations and more.
4. Get more communities along the Sangre De Cristo’s involved.
5. Get our schools involved.
6. Public Relations, outreach and educational programs to move forward and encourage people to support/understand/and help with dark skies.
7. Get local Huerfano residents involved with the reserve project to help with all the work mentioned above.
Once an area signs on, town leaders can help residents and businesses replace old lights with shielded fixtures that dim downward. The challenge has been ordinances that regulate how a property owner can light their property. But, there is such a large, broad based support for the dark sky initiative, this is normally not a problem. In most cases, it is already a “courtesy” for neighbors to turn off nighttime/outdoor lights to preserve nighttime viewing.
After all, everyone loves the stars!
To learn more go to https://www.colorado.com/coloradostargazing