Dark Skies For Devil’s Lake (And All of Us!)

Dark Skies For Devil’s Lake (And All of Us!)

As more and more people get outside to enjoy astronomical events such as the recent the Perseids meteor shower, they are beginning to realize that the night sky is fading away, even right here in the Baraboo Hills and Devil’s Lake State Park.

Bright lights are part of our modern world of course. Since our ancestors first gathered around a fire, we’ve found comfort and safety in light. The problem these days is that there is simply too much light and that light pollution is increasing almost daily. I’ll post a few links at the bottom of this article that go in-depth about the problem and some of the solutions, but my concern at the moment is local.

Night Sky Map

Night Sky Map shows light pollution in Devil’s lake Region.

Anyone who’s tried to take photos of the stars or the Milky Way at Devil’s Lake State Park quickly realizes the problem. While nighttime on the beach at Devil’s Lake State Park is darker than downtown Madison or Chicago, the sky isn’t truly “dark” either. The night sky is diffused by a thin blanket of light leaking in from all directions. You simply can’t see or photograph what’s really up there. If you’ve taken part in any of the astronomy programs at Devil’s lake, you’ve probably learned this already. Now photographers, that’s not to say you can’t get great shots. You simply have to work at it, and do a bit of “post-production” to make up for the loss of detail.

This primary layer of light pollution at Devil’s Lake State Park is caused by a combination of lighting from surrounding cities and at certain times of year, ski resorts. (See the map above.) A second, brighter layer of light is growing and encroaching upon the park from the city of Baraboo. Many businesses are are using modern, brighter lighting to draw customers, while the city itself has expanded almost to the park’s northern border. On any given night at Devil’s Lake, you can see the city glow blocking out almost everything else on the northern horizon of the lake.  (The featured light pollution map at the top of the page, illustrates this encroachment quite well.)

Night Sky

Un-enhanced Night Sky Image shows city glow on the north end of Devil’s Lake.

Now here’s the thing; Light pollution isn’t simply an issue of improving stargazing. It’s even about more than sleeping in a dark tent at our local parks and campgrounds. (Although in an eco-tourism driven community such as ours, this should be reason enough.) More than that, artificial light has negative effects on our health and psychology as well. (Not sleeping well? It could be all that light!)

Light pollution also messes with wildlife including disrupting migration patterns for birds. Yeah, I see those guys who always roll their eyes when you mention birds and animals… Whatever, but here’s where we can agree;  All those high-powered lights are waste of energy. They’re just expensive. If for no other reason, we should address light pollution to save money.  A lot of money!

Street Lights

Photo from Durham, NC showing the difference in glare between poorly designed lamps and full cutoff lamps. Click to enlarge. (Christopher Kyba, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License)

Dealing with light pollution isn’t difficult. Normally it’s simply about using dimmer lighting, setting timers or shielding bright lights, so that they shine down and not waste energy lighting the clouds. Communities all over the country are doing it right now and really we should get on board.

We could start at the park by using only “full cut-off” or “fully shielded” lighting fixtures, (meaning light doesn’t go up.) for all lighting within Devil’s Lake State Park.  In most cases shielding can be used or created for current fixtures. The lighting at the park itself isn’t too bad now, but there can be improvements.

Addressing light pollution from the city of Baraboo will take time and effort, but there are many examples to follow. Early steps could be simply shielding lights where possible, then in time replacing streetlights with energy-efficient, dark-sky friendly LEDs. Later, the city may want to create ordinances to require appropriate, safe outdoor lighting at homes and businesses.

Of course we do have to reach out beyond our local community to work on that general glow created by the cities, villages and even homes and farms in the surrounding area. It will take time.

The first step in the process is simply raising awareness for the need to control light pollution. (If you’ve never seen the night sky, you probably don’t see the problem!) Then we can take the baby steps we all can agree on right away while negotiating the harder bits. For all of our efforts we’ll have a beautiful night sky & draw more tourism, we’ll feel better, save money, get more sleep and even those pesky migrating birds will learn to straighten out and fly right!

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