“Darkness is as essential to our biological welfare, to our internal clockwork, as light itself.”*

How many children growing up in cities know what a night sky full of stars looks like?  How many city and suburban residents can see more than a handful of stars and understand the wonder of a true night sky?  As illuminated highways, box stores and housing developments spread ever outward from the urban core, true night skies are dwindling. Is there anything we can do about it?

Dark sky preserves are one answer.  In 1993, Michigan enacted legislation establishing an experimental dark sky preserve at Lake Hudson Recreation Area. The law requires that outdoor lighting doesn’t unreasonably interfere with nightime activities that require darkness, including enjoyment of the night sky, nightime photography, and wildlife photography.  Permanent lighting deemed necessary has to be directed downward and provided by fully shielded fixtures with motion sensor fixtures wherever practical. The legislation places no restrictions on light used by park users, who are asked to use nightime lighting in moderation, arrive with headlights on low beam, and use courtesy in dealings with others.

The Michigan legislation is modest in intent, scope and effect.

But advocates could do more. Parks Canada in late 2009 announced Grasslands National Park as the latest of the system’s dark sky preserves and defined it as “a sanctuary from artificial light. It is an area that maintains the nocturnal environment in as pristine a manner as possible. Two of the many benefits include a better environment for nocturnal wildlife and a great place for stargazers to view the stars. Dark Sky Preserves are important to the health of flora and fauna. The effects of a non-dark sky can cause problems with nocturnal animals, so it is important to fight against light pollution.”

On Ontario’s Manitoulin Island, a private association is working “to preserve the beauty of the night sky for future generations” by establishing the island as a “National Dark Sky Sanctuary.” It’s food for thought, anyway.

You can find out more about the International Dark Sky Association, which is promoting the idea of dark sky preserves, here.

* Vernon Klinkenborg, “Our Vanishing Night,” National Geographic, November 2008.

Image:  National Maritime Museum, England.