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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Can you see the Milky Way from your campsite?

One of the compelling features of boondocking away from the trappings of civilization is the dark sky at night. I am always blown away by the uncountable stars flickering in a sky not affected by light pollution. When not out in the boonies, I get aggravated when I look out my motorhome window at night to see the stars and all I can see is what is illuminated by my neighbor's porch light or the security lamps in campgrounds, effectively canceling out the carpet of glittering milky way stars and the imaginative images of the constellations scattered about the universe.

It's not just me that feels disrupted. Nocturnal animals are frequently disoriented by city lights. Migratory birds lose their way without the ability to see the stars, and leatherback sea turtles, that lay their eggs on sandy beaches, are often led astray by lights from beachside developments.

Light pollution affects nocturnal creatures, astronomical facilities, ecologically sensitive habitats, and our energy consumption according to the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA). Founded in 1988, the IDA's mission is to preserve dark skies all around the world for the benefit of mankind.

Part of the IDA's focus has been in their International Dark Sky Places program, certifying locations with exceptional nightscapes as International Dark Sky Communities (IDSC), International Dark Sky Reserves (IDSR), and International Dark Sky Parks (IDSP)--"a park or other public land possessing exceptional starry night skies and natural nocturnal habitat where light pollution is mitigated and natural darkness is valuable as an important educational, cultural, scenic, and natural resource."

Only two Dark-Sky Parks have been designated in the US, one is Natural Bridges National Monument in Southeastern Utah. The NPS recognizes bright and starry skies as part of the scenery of its parks, minimizing light pollution whenever possible.

The second is Cherry Springs State Park, a 48-acre state park (including a 30-site primitive campground with dump station) in north central Pennsylvania that is surrounded by the 262,000-acre Susquehannock State Forest.

Lake Hudson Recreation Area (Southern Michigan off the west end of Lake Erie) is a Dark Sky Preserve (one of only two in the US). The other is Potawatomi Wildlife Park in Indiana about half way between Fort Wayne and Gary.

Recent calculations suggest that "two-thirds of humanity lives under skies polluted with light, and one-fifth can no longer see the Milky Way" says National Geographic.

There are also places where you can see the glorious night sky other than in designated preserves or parks. If you are lucky enough to be able to snowbird in the southwestern deserts, you will be able to find many boondocking locations with few lights and bright star-sprinkled clear skies. And after your eyes adjust to the darkness, not only will you see a sky full of stars, you just might spot a nocturnal kangaroo rat, kit fox, or a wily coyote on the hunt.

Check out Bob Difley's eBooks on Boondocking and saving money on the road at

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