My wife and I live at Pack Creek Ranch in a valley that connects to the tail end of Spanish Valley. From our cabin, we can see traffic on Highway 191 three and a half miles to the west. One of the things that knocked our socks off when we first visited here was the night sky aglow with stars. We treasure that sight which just isn’t possible in most cities.
Not that long ago, we didn’t know what the concept of dark skies meant. We’ve come to understand that it’s the practice of using the least bright outdoor light necessary to accomplish a task and making sure that all exterior lighting is shaded to point downwards rather than out and up.
As owners have replaced exposed bulbs with shielded light fixtures on our street, it’s gotten really dark – so dark that a teenage girl visiting from Chicago got scared because she had never been in such a dark place. We’re all so used to light in our vision at night that we seldom see true night-dark. On a cloud-free evening without much moonlight, the Milky Way shines and the world is full of magic. I still think such dark is wondrous.
Obviously, in a more lit-up area like Spanish Valley, it will never be completely dark. But residents can still experience the dark skies phenomenon. Based on their feedback during San Juan County’s planning process for Spanish Valley last year, they clearly value it. Preserving dark skies emerged as the number one resident priority in the valley.
If we choose to live near one another instead of in the wilderness, we come together to agree on how to protect what we value and prevent what we don’t. Some people may grumble when government tells them what to do with their property (or their outdoor lights) but such resentment is misplaced. It’s not government telling us what to do, it’s us telling each other what we agree is important in our community.
San Juan County will soon be considering a dark skies ordinance for its portion of Spanish Valley as it lays the groundwork for future housing development. I support a dark skies ordinance that mirrors the ones adopted by Moab and Grand County so that the entire valley is covered by one consistent set of guidelines. I know there may be questions about how long the transition period for new lighting fixtures should be and how to accommodate residents for whom cost is a challenge. But for an issue with this level of agreement and support, I am confident that reasonable people can come up with reasonable solutions.
– Mark Shapiro