Gorge night sky symposium sparks good lighting conversations

A diverse group of night-sky enthusiasts, business people, lighting designers, and government officials gathered last month in Goldendale, Washington and The Dalles, Oregon for a two-day symposium for discussion of measures that might be taken to protect the supremely dark night skies in the Columbia River Gorge. While Seattle Astronomy was unable to attend because of travel, we did speak recently with symposium organizer Jonathan Lewis, who said the event was a big success because it got some great conversations started.

LEDs can be good

Goldendale Observatory

The Goldendale Observatory was one of the sites for a two-day symposium about dark skies in the Columbia River Gorge. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

Notably, Lewis said that author Paul Bogard portrayed LED lighting as the enemy during his keynote talk to open the symposium, but participants were able to change some minds.

“By the end of it we realized that the LED technology has a lot of potential to make the dark skies much better if it’s done properly,” Lewis said. “That was really the goal, to get that message out.”

Lewis gave several examples of talks that were learning experiences for symposium attendees. Gary Chittim of a lighting company called PlanLED discussed human-centric lighting that takes into account our circadian rhythms and other factors. LED lighting can be turned down low in the evening and much hotter during the day to mimic the Sun.

“Our relationship with lighting can, with LEDs, mimic a more natural environment, not only at night but also during the day,” Lewis noted.

Another speaker, Rob Leonard of Echelon, demonstrated interesting possibilities for the control of LEDs to provide as much light as needed when it is needed. LEDs can be set to dim at certain hours, and to get brighter only when people move near them. There’s even an app with an emergency button that can allow a person to turn up the lights if they’re concerned they’re being stalked at night.

“Amazing sci-fi stuff that they have available right now,” Lewis said, adding that Echelon is helping to put in controlled lights in Goldendale.

Lighting the ballfield

Sports teams have been among the loudest objectors when strong lighting ordinances are suggested, but Leonard also talked about arena lighting, and said that sports stadia can now be lit more evenly with minimal glare or light trespass.

“All of those things are greatly improved with the newer LED technology that’s available, so a lot of the arguments that sports groups might have against lighting ordinances maybe will go away because of the new technology,” Lewis said.

Building political support

Most of the “right people” attended the symposium, according to Lewis, including officials from Wasco County in Oregon, city commissioners from Hood River, and representatives from Columbia Gorge Scenic Area groups. State Rep. Gina McCabe (R-Goldendale) attended and stated that the attraction of the dark skies is important for tourism in the area.

“She’s definitely a leader in the business community, and having the businesses hear what she had to say and to have that be an important part of her agenda was really important,” Lewis said. He’s hoping McCabe can help engage on some statewide issues. For example, sometimes lighting ordinances aren’t enforced adequately in smaller communities because they don’t have their own electrical inspectors and rely instead on state inspectors through the Department of Labor and Industries. State legislation could allow L&I inspectors to enforce or urge compliance with local ordinances even though they serve different jurisdictions.

“Some conversations like that were able to get started,” Lewis said.

The conversations are continuing, Lewis said. There’s some talk about creating a Gorge-wide dark sky area project, which he called, “a very exciting possibility.” There’s also a movement afoot to start collecting data about light levels in the Gorge. Lewis noted that people who wish to follow these efforts can sign up for newsletters from the Mid-Columbia Economic Development District and the Friends of the Goldendale Observatory.

If you missed the symposium as we did, you’ll find videos of the various presentations below following our podcast of our interview with Lewis.

Podcast of our interview with Jonathan Lewis about the symposium:

Videos of presentations from the dark-sky symposium:

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One thought on “Gorge night sky symposium sparks good lighting conversations

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