Preserving the Night Sky

Door Property Owners (DPO) sent a letter to Newport State Park, expressing support to State Park Superintendent Michelle Hefty in pursuing dark-sky designation from the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA). The designation, granted to a land, “possessing an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and a nocturnal environment,” would be the only designated location in the state and the third in the Midwest.

“So many of our visitors from Chicago or Milwaukee, one of the first things they say is, ‘Oh my goodness there’s so many stars.’ That’s a really special quality that we have and it’s something that we would love to see protected,” said Nancy Fisher, DPO secretary.

IDA began in 2001 and has been identifying places around the world that are significant in preserving dark skies. Designation promotes eco-tourism while expressing the importance of dark skies as a valuable resource in need of proactive protection.

Light pollution is caused by artificial light and can affect more than just the visibility of the stars. By introducing excessive artificial light, the body’s natural circadian rhythm can be disrupted. Circadian rhythm naturally tells the body when to wake up and when to go to sleep. A similar affect is produced in animals in nature.

“There’s a huge percentage of animals that hunt at night,” said Hefty. “Most of the predators do most of their hunting at night so it affects that whole balance.”

In 2007, the World Health Organization listed disruption to the circadian rhythm as a probable carcinogen contributing to cancer.

In order for Newport State Park to achieve this designation, it would have to prove visibility of sky phenomena as well as an effort to improve outdoor light sources, making them more compliant with standards set by the IDA.

“Right now our night readings are in the same category as Big Bend National Park (Texas) and Death Valley National Park (California), these huge areas of darkness,” said Hefty. “We always thought of ourselves as being the darkest area on the peninsula because we’re five miles from any external light sources.”

Additional requirements include four educational seminars annually to promote the value of the night sky. Newport already has dark sky programming such as the Perseid Meteor Shower event in August and seminars about the nightlife of wild animals.

The designation also comes at the cusp of change for many of Wisconsin’s state parks.

“In the state budget, there was a point made that the state was going to reduce, if not eliminate, some funding for the state parks so the state parks have to scramble to find funding,” said Fisher. “This attracts a whole new group of people, which can only be good. Most of the dark sky locations are in the western part of the country in Texas and California and so to have something in the Midwest is just one more really terrific aspect and Newport would just be phenomenal.”

Fisher hopes the dark-sky designation will provide an example to the communities of Door County as they move forward with reconstruction plans.

“If we start to see some of these things coming, it would be so great to go to the Town of Liberty Grove and say, ‘How about implementing some of these in the construction?’” said Fisher. Street and building lights can be built to reduce the upward glare of the light they emit. By concentrating most of the light down, where it is intended for anyway, light pollution can be decreased. Fisher has already seen these lighting methods implemented in places like Olde Stone Quarry County Park and the Maple-Oregon Bridge in Sturgeon Bay.

Hefty explained that Wildcat Mountain State Park east of La Crosse is also looking at dark-sky designation. She hopes that Newport will set the stage for other Wisconsin parks to pursue the designation, including Rock Island.

With all of their application materials compiled, Hefty will have a final meeting with the IDA on Aug. 11 to submit the application. When the IDA Board meets in September to review applications, they will have a two-month review period before recommending the location to the international board. Hefty hopes she will be able to cut the ribbon to their dark sky in December or January of this year.