Dark Skies

A Future Hanging In The Balance

Made from 8 light frames with 3 dark frames by Starry Landscape Stacker 1.8.0. Algorithm: Min Horizon Noise

Heber Valley – it’s not only a breath of fresh air but also a growing city where one can still see trillions of stars.

In our heavenly mountains, views are priceless. Most of them require the sunlight to see: the Wasatch Mountains, Deer Creek, and acre after acre of open pastures. What happens when the sun sets? Then what view draws our gaze? When were the Big Dipper and the Milky Way discussed as treasured views from the valley floor? I can step out onto my lawn in central Heber and look up to see both of these on cold, clear nights. I want my child to see them from our home when she’s older. As our town grows, her view becomes threatened, and it becomes apparent that we need to preserve the darkness so our children can enjoy this same night sky.

For the International Dark Sky Association, dialogue regarding starry views has been the priority of its entire operation since its inception in 1988. The association provides a platform upon which members of a community can call on leaders to preserve their night sky. 2019 was a good year for this discussion in the Heber Valley. In March, Wasatch State Park held a Dark Sky Night, as part of National Dark Sky Week. According to Kathy Donnell, Wasatch State Park Ranger, 250 people showed up, abundantly more than anticipated. In town hall meetings, individuals voiced concern for preserving and bettering our vista of the stars. This local advocacy for nighttime darkness resulted in prioritizing the matter during the Heber City Envision 2050 meetings.

In speaking with John Janson, who has been consulting with the Heber City Envision 2050 Steering Committee, I asked what the City of Heber is doing as the community grows, both in population and structures. He described that while no ordinance currently exists and, as of this writing, had not been proposed, (in part because the new General Plan is currently being revised), Dark Sky compliant lighting became a priority goal in the city’s revised General Plan; a product of the Envision 2050 public process.

Concerning guidance for new developments to install dark sky friendly lighting, John stated, “You never know as you go through adopting a new ordinance. The ultimate solution is that there is a provision for residential structures, agricultural structures, commercial businesses, and government-related lighting. We may see all that in an ordinance, we may not.”

John shared some of the top concerns that the city will need to address first, “Street lights play a big role; it’s an easy place to start for most communities. Then we start talking about commercial businesses; their lighting needs to be directed downward. And then signs, Billboards are usually up-lit.”

Moving forward, creating an ordinance from the General Plan to protect our night sky may also lead to community awareness programs. We might see small adjustments toward Dark Sky compliant lighting at first, as much of the current abundant, disseminated light affecting Heber Valley requires structural modification. Retrofitting the city is a great start. However, with the future growth that Heber Valley will experience, implementing provisions for new lighting structures cannot be overlooked. There needs to be a plan to keep our view of the stars intact – it is one of the many reasons we love this place.

Ogden Valley got the idea in 2000, and an ordinance was placed on lighting to be Dark Sky compliant. The directive remains in place as the area continues to see residential growth. The community’s goal to maintain responsible lighting facilitated the certification of Weber County North Fork Park as an International Dark Sky Park in 2015. To this day, this park is still certified. (Utah Rural Planning, p.34)

Similarly situated, near more than one town and somewhat shielded from the larger cities by high mountains, “Wasatch State Park applied for International Dark Sky Association certification in 2016,” Kathy Donnell explained. “But we’re still working on it.” She described that lighting in the park had been evolving toward Dark Sky compliance. Neighborhoods adjacent to the state park have instituted recommendations to drape windows and use less exterior lighting. As an onlooker, it seems apparent that light from outside the park may still affect the darkness inside it.

As residents, we’re able to align as a mountain community and commit to Dark Sky compliant lighting. Would the attenuation of the extra light from town be enough to grant us our own International Dark Sky certified State Park? If we continue showing up to town hall meetings, talking with neighbors, and generally discussing Dark Sky compliant lighting for the city, we stand to gain long-term preservation of the Valley’s nighttime view of those trillion stars in our corner of the galaxy.

Dark Sky Compliant Lighting:

Fully shielded to direct light downward, no brighter nor broader and only illuminated when necessary. It must also limit blue light emission.

International Dark Sky Association (IDA), founded in 1988 in Tuscan, Arizona. Visit their website at darksky.org for more information.

Photograph by Brent Haddock