|HIGHLANDS VOICE: A Test Case for Darkness|
By Hugh Rogers 2014
Paul Bogard has chased darkness
to Sark, a tiny island in the English Channel
(the first International Dark Sky Island),
back to Flagstaff, Arizona (the first Dark
Sky City), and to some
Death Valley, Cadillac Mountain, Great
Basin National Park. Now, maybe he'll
come to Calhoun County.
late September, I was reading
Bogard's elegiac, comprehensive book,
The End of Night
, when Cindy Ellis alerted
me to a West Virginia Public Radio story
about researchers from the University of
Tennessee testing that small central West
Virginia county for a possible dark sky park.
UT's Tim Ezzell told Beth Vorhees,
"We looked at maps and charts and sure
enough Calhoun was about the darkest
place left in the Eastern United States."
He said they had determined there was a
market for darkness tourism.
"We did a brief
survey, sent it out to a few astronomers to
see what they thought and within days we
had three hundred responses." Amateur
astronomers, they concluded, would be
likely to come. They would buy food and
lodging and spend money for a place to
I called Ezzell in Knoxville.
He's the director of UT's Community
Partnership Center, and has long experience
in rural economic development. He told me
he had visited Calhoun County three or four
years ago on a study for the Appalachian
Regional Commission. The county "couldn't
get moving," he said.
"The ARC sent us
back." His team met with stakeholders who
struggled to identify the county's assets.
"One person said, 'It's really dark here!"
What prompted this person to see
darkness as an advantage? Darkness
is treated nearly everywhere the way
wolves were in the West: a threat to be
Anyway, the UT crew had little else
to go on. They went back to their offices,
looked at data sets, did market research,
and began to see possibilities. Calhoun
was one of the two or three darkest spots
in the Eastern United States, and it was
accessible: only thirty miles or so from
an Interstate Highway, within reach of
Pittsburgh, Columbus, and other population
Calhoun County Park, a beautiful
farm that had been donated to the county,
had been underused. It had three good
viewing areas. Although it's close to the
county seat, Grantsville, hills and woods
limited sky glow.
led a workshop on taking
advantage of darkness, and equally
important, protecting that resource. "Once
lights are turned on," he said, "they don't get
turned off." The county has begun changing
existing lighting to more sensible systems
that put light where it should go, and only
where it should go, to help people feel safe.
Under consideration are zoning "overlays"
close to the park.
s remarkable when darkness
becomes an issue anywhere. Calhoun
County is confronting fundamental
questions: what good is artificial light? what
harm can it cause? what can we change to
make it more effective and less intrusive?
Few people in the rest of the world are aware
that their use of light could be questioned.
course these questions are being
asked only because darkness was identified
as an economic asset.
Ezzell says, "It's
like anything, once it becomes scarce it
becomes more valuable. And darkness is
becoming more and more scarce all over
The End of Night, Paul Bogard
quotes John Van Dyke, in
To speak about sparing anything
because it is beautiful is to waste
one's breath and incur ridicule in the
bargain. The aesthetic sense—the
power to enjoy through the eye, the
ear, and the imagination—is just as
important a factor in the scheme of
human happiness as the corporeal
sense of eating and drinking; but
there has never been a time when
the world would admit it.
In our public discourse, nothing has
changed. But what has changed in regard to
darkness is that we have discovered more
about its importance, beyond aesthetics; we
have learned that light, as now employed,
does not make us safer—in fact, it's bad for
Here's Bogard, in an interview: "One
phrase that makes me cringe is 'well-lit,'
as in 'we need to have well-lit streets.' For
most people, this just means 'bright' ... I'd
like to see us understand 'well-lit' to mean
responsible, thoughtful lighting. That means
shielded lights, and that means lights that
are no brighter than they need to be."
Too much light is counterproductive,
creating glare that actually impairs vision.
David Crawford, the founder of the
International Dark-Sky Association, calls
our current array of street lights, barn lights,
wall packs—the so-called security lights—
and business plaza parking lots are now lit
ten times as brightly as they were twenty
Parking lots are responsible for
more than half of all outdoor lighting—and
they are seldom shielded, or reduced to the
minimum necessary for sight, or turned off
when the lots are not in use.
You may recall the robbery of a
Stradivarius violin from the Milwaukee
Symphony's concert master in a parking
lot after a performance last January.
Lights didn't deter the robber. Nor did they
help solve the crime. He drove off in his
maroon getaway van under all the lights of
Loose talk from an accomplice
eventually nailed him. Police work depends
mostly on listening.
Calhoun County might consider
a building code that's been proposed for
London: "All exterior light will be directed
only on the premises to be illuminated."
shall not escape to the sky, to the neighbors,
to the street.
Research into health effects of
excessive lighting—"excessive" in time as
well as intensity—has focused on night-shift
work, which is linked with diabetes, obesity,
and heart ailments.
The World Health
Organization lists shift work as a possible
carcinogen. But those of us who keep
"normal" hours are also affected by the loss
of darkness. Our circadian rhythms are out
of whack. Some medical researchers think
poor sleep puts people at greater risk for
health problems than smoking, poor diet, or
lack of exercise.
Light at night is worse for wildlife.
affects orientation, predation, competition,
reproduction, and circadian rhythms.
average citizen may be dimly aware of
this, and respond with a regretful shrug.
Still, arguments based on other-species
endangerment are striking closer to home
these days. Ebola is the latest reminder
that we cannot cut ourselves off from the
rest of nature.
A longer review would sing the
praises of darkness. Bogard knows it's hard
to sell its charms to people (most of us)
who've never really experienced it.
a factoid: astronomers say it's only when
you can see 450 stars at a time that you
get a feeling of infinitude.
your eyes are still adjusting after two hours
in the dark. After reading this book, you'll
want to go outside in a very dark place.
could begin by sampling Calhoun County's
ASTRONOMERS STARGAZE THE UNIVERSAL SKY AT CALHOUN PARK - Dark Skies Astronomy Center Development
CALHOUN'S DARK SKIES - County Could Become Tourist Destination For Astronomers
DARK SKIES STARGAZING CENTER AT CALHOUN PARK MOVES FORWARD - "Vision Pretty Big"