Shedding as Little Light as Possible is OK in This Case

Shedding as Little Light as Possible is OK in This Case

A cautionary lesson for Door County is contained in the glow from the southwest. The lights needed to serve the 100,000 residents of Green Bay bounce off the clouds or provide an iridescent radiance that blots out the view of the stars.

With an active astronomical society in the county, we have a built-in group of sentinels to remind communities about the beauty of an unfettered night sky. And folks like Doug Paulin are around to suggest alternatives when developers consider adding to what can only be described as light pollution.

Paulin, extensively quoted in an article in the December 10 Advocate, is an Egg Harbor lighting designer who is the leader of the Wisconsin section of the International Dark-Sky Association, a 10,000-member organization based in Tucson, Arizona, and a member and former director of the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America.

While the focus of our article was reaction to Ephraim’s current plan to switch to old-fashioned “acorn-style” streetlights, Paulin said it wouldn’t hurt if all of Door County’s communities took a careful look at whether their lights are doing what they’re designed to do–lighting the ground–or spilling in the wrong direction and lighting the sky instead.

“Most all of the (municipalities) that have chosen a particular fixture and pole for a theme have made the choice based on daytime appearance–or what architects call ‘day form’–not how they perform at night for visibility,” Paulin told us.

It turns out the acorns are pretty to look at “they remind me of the little streetlights that came with model railroad sets” but so much of their light heads upward that they risk producing a smaller version of that Green Bay glow, obscuring the night view.

Examples of light fixtures that do their job with a minimum of upward diversion include those at Little Sweden in Fish Creek, the Sturgeon Bay YMCA and the “cobra-styled” lights that Wisconsin Public Service Corporation has installed along Highway 42 near Carlsville.

After hearing about Paulin’s concerns, the Ephraim Village Board is taking another look at the subject and may revise its plans to prevent lighting up the sky as much as possible, and trustees are to be commended for being willing to reconsider.

It’s just another example of the constant vigilance required to keep Door County the wonderland it is. This summer we were reminded how important it is to take care of the water that surrounds our Peninsula. New developers are always learning about the fragile ecosystem and thin layer of soil that covers the county. Air pollution alerts remind us to be concerned about what happens in Chicago and Milwaukee. And now we remember that it’s not always a good thing to “leave the light on for you.”

Clean water, clear air and a sky full of stars at night are among the reasons people flock to Door County. It’s a challenging balancing act: We want as many people as possible to come enjoy these pleasures, but in accommodating that many people we run the risk of ruining the reasons they are coming. The technology that illuminates streets without bouncing the light off the clouds is a brilliant step in the right direction.

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