Keeping dark skies dark

Camp Verde, Cottonwood look to achieve dark-sky designation

Starlit sky from Jerome. After direction by the Cottonwood City Council, the community development staff created a dark-sky committee to work toward the creation of a new lighting ordinance and eventually, crafting an application of their own.  (VVN/Halie Chavez)

Starlit sky from Jerome. After direction by the Cottonwood City Council, the community development staff created a dark-sky committee to work toward the creation of a new lighting ordinance and eventually, crafting an application of their own. (VVN/Halie Chavez)

— Looking upward on a summer night in Camp Verde will allow for an ideal view of the Milky Way — the same view that inspired Matt Malloy to become a science teacher.

Malloy teaches astronomy at Camp Verde High School and has taught children about stars for 22 years. A new sky quality meter at the Camp Verde Community Library will measure the darkness of the sky throughout the year, and student-gathered data will be shared annually with the International Dark-Sky Association. The effort will show Camp Verde’s dedication to the upkeep of dark-sky preservation.

Sebra Choe, economic development specialist in Camp Verde, hopes to formalize the town’s commitment to a visible night sky by achieving the dark-sky community designation from the International Dark-sky Association.

The application for the designation will be submitted by March 26 and the town will receive a response by June. Choe said she plans to reapply “as many times as it takes” to receive the designation.

Choe has gathered 70 letters of support from residents, businesses, local organizations, Lowell Observatory as well as state and national organizations.

The Camp Verde Town Council recently approved dark-sky lighting ordinance changes, including: low lumen lights, shielded downward facing lights, motion sensor options and warm-toned lighting. The ordinance has a sunset clause of 10 years.

The town has made dark-sky efforts dating back to 2001 in its lighting choices. The plan is to bring all municipal lighting into compliance within the next fiscal year.

Choe cited the benefits in cost savings, sleep quality, health for both people and wildlife, and the study of astronomy, aesthetic beauty and recreational enjoyment, as well as eco-tourism all as reasons for the lighting change.

“We understand the importance of natural resource preservation, such as with our water and our national parks, and we’d like people to think that way about our starry night sky,” Choe said.

Astronomers of the Verde Valley host stargazing events twice a year at Camp Verde’s designated Star Park in promotion of dark skies.

Choe said the response she’s received from Camp Verdeans has been positive, based on letters, star party attendance and conversations with citizens.

“There are understandable concerns: what is it going to cost me and why is the government telling me what to do on my own property? The majority of citizens moved to Camp Verde for its natural resources and appreciate the payoff of making personal changes in order to protect an increasingly diminishing resource,” Choe said.

Malloy is one of the citizens in strong support of the designation.

“The Verde Valley is in a unique position to preserve this natural resource … I am proud of Camp Verde for taking the measures to protect us from the fate of Phoenix, Los Angeles and Las Vegas,” Malloy said.

Cottonwood

After direction by the Cottonwood City Council, the community development staff created a dark-sky committee to work toward the creation of a new lighting ordinance and eventually, crafting an application of their own.

Berrin Nejad, the dark-sky committee chair, like Choe, has collected support letters from the public and local organizations.

“I think it is proper for us – we should do it and follow in the footsteps of Sedona. I think it will be a good thing in every way. We’ve been practicing [dark-sky habits], so why not do it the right way?” Nejad said.

The committee has worked with Joanne Kendrick, chair of Keep Sedona Beautiful’s dark-sky committee, for over a year throughout the process.

Existing zoning ordinance applies the principles of dark skies such as shielded lighting.

The new ordinance for the outdoor lighting code was tabled in December as the committee makes requested changes. Lower lumen lighting will be included as part of the new code, as well as other detail changes.

Nejad said the ordinance is “so close” to being adapted to the council’s standards.

Central Arizona Phenomenon

The International Dark-sky Association is headquartered in Tucson, while a surge of designated dark-sky communities has spread throughout the state.

John Barentine, the program manager of the International Dark-Sky Association, describes the cluster of towns between Flagstaff and Fountain Hills as the “central Arizona phenomenon.”

The area is unique in that four communities, Flagstaff, Sedona, Big Park/Village of Oak Creek and Fountain Hills make up 20 percent of the dark-sky communities within a 100-mile radius – the highest density of registered communities. Camp Verde and Cottonwood’s designation would further increase the density.

Barentine says there’s not much competition in other states, either – the next two of the closest communities are in Hill County, Texas.

“Arizona is very definitely leading in this realm at the moment, which I think reflects a lot of different things about the values of folks who live in that part of our state. It’s also a hopeful indicator about Arizona’s future in that regard,” Barentine said.

Sedona was the eighth International Dark-Sky Community in the world. Flagstaff was the first.

Keep Sedona Beautiful was among the first organizations in the late ‘90s to keep light pollution in Sedona low. The group wrote an Outdoor Lighting Ordinance for both the City of Sedona and Yavapai County that curbed light pollution. Sedona adopted and implemented the ordinance in 2001, Yavapai County followed in 2002.

Kendrick says that residents “have shown strong support for preserving our dark skies enabling us to enjoy the wonders.

-- Follow Halie Chavez on Twitter @haliephoto

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