By Connie Leinbach and Irene Nolan
“You can see the Milky Way here,” is often heard on Ocracoke.
On moonless nights, this is true all along the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
Because of this, the CHNS is seeking a “dark sky” designation from the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) in Tucson, Ariz.
After conducting a recent inventory assessment of all the light fixtures in the park (more than 400), the NPS determined that the majority of their lights will need to be retrofitted at a cost double the initial estimate of $30,000, Cyndy Holda, park spokesperson, said.
“We can’t just strip out bulbs because that’s wasteful,” Holda said. “The project is of the magnitude that it won’t be accomplished by 2016.”
However, the park staff are committed to a phased approach in the coming years to continue to pursue the IDA dark sky designation, she said, and the park service will use the 2016 centennial year as a kick-off for this popular project.
“We will gradually retrofit, replace bulbs work with related partners such CHEC, Dominion Power and Tideland EMC and interested community neighbors or individuals,” she said.
The national Centennial Celebration Committee is calling the initiative “Starry, Starry Night.”
“National parks hold some of the last remaining harbors of darkness and provide an excellent opportunity for the public to experience these starry night skies and natural darkness,” the Park Service says in its public relations materials.
Northeastern North Carolina has some of the darkest skies east of the Mississippi River and especially on the East Coast, Holda, who also is a member of the centennial committee, said.
The initiative would enhance sea turtle protection measures and the Park Service’s “go green” goal to protect the environment and save energy, she said.
A non-profit organization founded in 1988, the IDA is the leading advocate and recognized authority for night sky protection and has taken the lead in identifying and publicizing the adverse impacts of artificial light at night on human health, wildlife, the climate, and the spectacular nighttime heavens.
IDA established the International Dark Sky Places conservation program in 2001 “to recognize excellent stewardship of the night sky.”
An International Dark Sky park is “a location of exceptional nighttime beauty, dark skies education, and preservation of the nighttime environment.”
Nineteen parks are recognized on the IDA website, including seven national parks or monuments. If the Cape Hatteras National Seashore wins approval from IDA, it would be the first national seashore designated as a Dark Sky Park.
Parks must apply for designation, and IDA has rigorous requirements, including a lightscape management plan and a commitment to public education.
According to IDA guidelines, two-thirds of the park’s lighting must meet the requirements of its lighting management plan when it applies for designation. Ninety percent must comply with the plan in five years.
At the same time, Tideland Electric Membership Cooperative, which powers Ocracoke, is inventorying Park Service lights on the island for this project, said Heidi Smith, Tideland spokesperson.
Down the road, as bulbs burn out, Tideland is looking into changing the approximately 20 security lights it owns on the island from high-pressure sodium to LED lights, which last longer, are more fade-resistant and, more energy efficient.
“The cleanest and greenest energy is energy we don’t use,” Smith said.
Ocracoke does not have street lights, but the scattered lights on poles around the island are security lights that Tideland installs (at property owners’ expense) if property owners request them.
However, these security lights often do not shine downward, which is the way dark sky-compliant lights should beam.
Any lights can be made dark-sky compliant by painting the sides and the tops black, Smith said.
“Non-compliant lights require labor for us to go out and paint,” Smith said. “Dark sky has everything to do with directional illumination.”
This is an easy task homeowners could do for their outside lights as well.
Editor’s note: The original story is on www.islandfreepress.org.