Monday, June 17, 2019
Sun Valley’s Celestial Beauty Rates Tops
The Milky Way over the spatter cones at Craters of the Moon National Monument between Carey and Arco. COURTESY: ICL
Wednesday, December 19, 2018


Josh Johnson  didn’t know what he’d get when he aimed his phone at the sky from his campsite at Baker Lake in the White Cloud Wilderness north of Ketchum this summer.

The app read 21.7.

Johnson, who works with the Idaho Conservation League, shook his head. It doesn’t get much darker than that.

These maps show the way light pollution has increased across the globe. COURTESY: ICL

Readings taken of the night sky at Alpine and Sawtooth lakes in the Sawtooth produced similar results.

The readings validated the decision of stargazing experts when they created the Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve a year ago on Dec. 18. The designation—a gold one, which is the highest you can get--made a 1,416-square-mile area that encompasses, Sun Valley, Ketchum and the Sawtooth National Recreation Area the first International Dark Sky Reserve in the United States.

And it was made on the basis of a 200-page application filled out by local organizations and governmental agencies, including the Idaho Conservation League , City of Stanley and City of Ketchum, which had already attained Dark City status.

“Receiving the designation isn’t the end of it,” said Betsy Mizell, of the Idaho Conservation League, who will be among those celebrating the anniversary of the Dark Sky Reserve designation in a celestial party Friday at Ketchum Town Square. “We have to continually monitor the sky. We have to continually work to make sure it stays dark.”

The Central Idaho Reserve is one of only two reserves in North America. The other is Mont-Megantic near Quebec, Canada.

There is one at the NamibRand Nature Reserve in Africa and one at Aoraki/Mount Cook in New Zaeland.

And there are five in Europe—in Wales, England, Ireland and France.

But they do not boast the dark sky that this area does, Mizell said.

“Europe has a lot of light pollution. But having these reserves gives them a chance to talk about how to deal with light pollution.”

The nearby Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve, which is a designated Dark Sky Park,  is considered one of the best places to view the dark sky in the United States due to clarity of the atmosphere there, said Mizell.

And there’s been a flurry of talk about Idaho’s dark sky in such publications as USA Today and the New York Times—all of which has brought people from as far away as Florida here just to see the Milky Way, said Mizell.

The Idaho Rocky Mountain Ranch near Stanley has catered to guests that are coming because of the Reserve. And Shannon Allen says Hotel Ketchum is trying to figure out ways it can educate its guests about the dark sky reserve, giving them one more reason to visit.

And Dr. Stephen Pauley, one of the leaders in establishing Dark Sky communities and reserves here, spent the evening with a group that came here to see the Perseid Meteor showers in Augist.

"We spent the evening in Senate Meadows near Galena Lodge with people who'd never seen anything but the moon lying on the ground looking into the heavens. We take it for granted what we can see here when 80 percent of Americans can't even see the Milky Way," he said.


“We need to figure out celestial and astronomical events, star parties to bring people here,” said Mizell. “And having local businesses on board will help. So much of the work ICL does is controversial, but this is something that all people can agree on. It connects people to place and environment.”

She paused. “Everyone can relate to looking up and being amazed.”

Mizell was one of those people.

She grew up in Chicago where she saw little beyond the bright city lights.

“I came out West and I remember looking up and seeing the Milky Way for the first time. And I was amazed,” she said. “I just went back to Chicago for a wedding, and I couldn’t see the stars, even though I kept craning my neck, looking up.”

Unfortunately, light from Boise is beginning to impact the Sawtooth Wilderness. A glow from Boise can often be seen from the overlook atop Galena Summit.

Having the Dark Sky Reserve in place opens the door to talking with Boise officials about measures they can take to cut light pollution, Mizell said.

“We need to get on that because Boise is growing daily. And Twin Falls is growing, as well,” she said. “There’s a chance the Owyhee Canyonlands southwest of Boise could apply for status as a Dark Sky Reserve so it’s in our best interests to cut the light.”

“It’s one of the easiest pollutions to control—just turn the light off. But if you want it on, at least shield it  so the light goes downward rather than up to the sky. Shields cost just $20. And LEDs are beginning to come in softer lights, rather than the bright lights that were introduced originally.”

While Sun Valley and Ketchum are on board with dark sky practices, Bellevue is examining what it can do to retrofit its street lamps, said Mayor –Elect Ned Burns. The city of Hailey has not made a big push towards becoming a Dark Sky Community so far, citing staff limitations.

Trying to attain a Dark Sky doesn’t mean can’t you have Christmas lights. But the City of Ketchum has shrunk the time homeowners can display Christmas lights to four months—between Nov. 20 and March 20. Before, people could display Christmas from Nov. 1 to April.

The City also requires lights to be off by 10:30 p.m.

And the Indian Creek Homeowners Association has restricted theirs even further, asking homeowners to turn them off after January, said Julie Weston.

“The City of Ketchum is talking about putting lights along the bike path in Warm Springs. Hopefully, they will be appropriate,” said Mizell.

Cutting light pollution is about more than just being able to see the Milky Way, Mizell said.

It disrupts circadian rhythms, messes with melatonin levels, thereby hurting the immune system, raising cholesterol and contributing to sleeping disorders. It increases the risk of obesity, depression, diabetes, breast cancer and more, according to some research.

And it radically alters the nighttime environment of nocturnal animals like bats, interfering with reproduction and confusing birds on their migratory routes.

In fact, artificial light is the most dramatic change humans have made to the wildlife and environment, said Mizell.

How should one experience Central Idaho’s dark sky?

“Just look up. You don’t need a telescope or binoculars. You just need your eyes,” said Mizell.

That said, technology can enhance the experience. There are, for instance, phone apps like SkyView, Night Sky Lite, Sky Map and NASA App that can tell you the constellations you’re looking at.

And there are websites, such as Sky News and Sky & Telescope, that provide a list of celestial events.

December, for instance, had nearly something every night involving planets, the moon and star clusters—all but one visible simply with the eyeballs.

Among them the Geminids Meteor Shower, which sent a hundred meteors an hour shooting across the sky.

Dec. 22 will feature the Ursid Meteor Shower, which actually started Dec. 17. And on Christmas Eve the moon will approach Messier 44, also known as the Beehive Cluster

“There’s probably 200 things happening year round,” Mizell said.


Citizens can help collect light readings measuring the night sky brightness within the Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve by downloading the Dark Sky Meter at Report findings to the ICL at 208-726-7485.


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