Dark skies of Lake, Harney, and Malheur Counties are an untapped resource.

At the latest regional meeting hosted by Travel Oregon (TO) and Travel Southern Oregon (TSO) a new committee was announced. That committee would look into getting dark sky certification for all three counties by the International Dark Sky Association (IDSA), making it the largest contiguous certified dark sky location in the world. Getting dark sky certification is not easy though, and it is not a one-time deal either. I know from personal experience.

In the early 2000s I lived in Tucson, Ariz., attending the University of Arizona. As an Astronomy/Physics major I was always interested in the dark skies and watching the stars at night. Right outside of town was the Kitt Peak Observatory. The night skies are important for the continued operation of Kitt Peak, so the community of Tucson worked towards making the skies dark once more.

That took a herculean effort for a city the size of Tucson. I knocked on doors talking to residents about the importance of dark skies and why we should cherish them. Some people were interested, some were disinterested, others were on the fence. Over time people’s attitudes changed about the importance of having a dark sky and not unlimited light pollution.

Light bulbs in lamp posts were changed. Covers were put on outdoor lights so the light would shine down, not up.

People might think most light shines downward illuminating the ground. In reality a large portion of light from sources shine upward, illuminating nothing but the sky.

There are many reasons why people come to rural areas to experience dark skies. Including among others health-related concerns. Constant light is bad for health, we need dark to sleep, to relax our minds. People from big cities like to spend time where they can see stars because it resets a natural internal rhythm.

The Alvord Desert near the Steen Mountains is one of the darkest places in America and it is spectacular. The band of the Milky Way galaxy is visible across the entire sky.

Using this natural resource the region has a chance to become a major destination for people to come from around the world. People will come from all over the world, if certification is approved, to experience raw, natural beauty right here in Southern Oregon.

It comes down to what type of certification do we, as a community, want. There are different levels; the two ideal locally are Sanctuary and Reserve. Each has different criteria; the Sanctuary option is harder to get and is therefore rarer.

The committee must determine whether Sanctuary or Reserve is preferable for the region. The committee process will initially take one-to-three years for certification. Afterwards the community would need to continually make improvements to maintain certification. I believe it is worth it, as only a few places in the United States are certified.

For more information about the new committee, or if people wish to join the new committee, contact Jessica Bogardus at the Lake County Chamber of Commerce at 541-947-6040.

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