Observatory Park at Turner Farm.jpg

Observatory Park at Turner Farm

Fairfax County supervisors on Oct. 5 unanimously approved a resolution supporting the county Park Authority’s proposal to seek “dark-sky” status for the Observatory Park at Turner Farm in Great Falls.

The Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) has nominated the observatory park to receive such a designation from the International Dark Sky Association.

Five kinds of designations are available under that group’s International Dark Sky Places program, which was founded in 2001 to “encourage communities, parks and protected areas around the world to preserve and protect dark skies through responsible lighting policies and public education,” Supervisor John Foust (D-Dranesville) said when moving for the resolution’s adoption.

The Observatory Park at Turner Farm may qualify as an Urban Night Sky Place, defined as a “municipal park, open space, observing site or other similar property near or surrounded by large urban environs whose planning and design activity promote an authentic nighttime experience in the midst of significant artificial light,” Park Authority officials said.

Such urban sites do not meet requirements for other International Dark Sky Places categories, but are worthy of recognition for their efforts to “educate the public on the benefits of proper outdoor lighting that ensures public safety while minimizing potential harm to the natural nighttime environment,” FCPA officials said.

The nomination proposal, which aims to highlight the park and show the community’s commitment to dark-sky education, also received letters of support from the Great Falls Citizens Association (GFCA) and the Analemma Society, which runs astronomical programs at the observatory.

Reducing light pollution has been one of Fairfax County’s environmental goals for years, and county officials in February 2020 updated outdoor-lighting standards to make the county even more dark-sky-friendly, Park Authority officials said.

“We are hoping that our designation and educational efforts will make citizens aware of the new standards and the importance of dark skies,” they said.

According to GFCA’s Website, modern society needs outdoor lighting for safety and commerce.

“Artificial light at night has revolutionized the way we live and work outdoors, but it has come at a price,” GFCA leaders said. “When used indiscriminately, outdoor lighting can disrupt wildlife, impact human health, waste money and energy, contribute to climate change and block our view of the universe.”

The International Dark Sky Association recommends that such lighting’s harmful effects may be minimized by using it only when needed, lighting only areas that need illumination, using no brighter lights than necessary and fully shielding the lights to prevent glare, GFCA’s Website noted.

[Sun Gazette Newspapers provides content to, but otherwise is unaffiliated with, InsideNoVa or Rappahannock Media LLC.]

(3) comments

Kermit Robat

The light pollution in northern VA is only going to get worse with the on-going urbanization of farmland and naturally wooded areas. If you wish to mitigate this, there are a few proactive steps that could be taken: (1) Plant more tall leafy trees in and around parking lots, shopping centers and other areas that have been paved over. (2) Reduce unnecessary lighting. (3) Manage exterior lighting so that it is focused down rather than out or up.

Those options are not perfectly effective and come with costs. While trees reduce the amount of lighting scattered into the sky, they also require leaf clean-up, which is an added cost many businesses will not want to assume. And reducing unnecessary lighting hinges upon your interpretation of the word “unnecessary”. Can you really blame the resident of a high crime area trying to hold a line on what constitutes necessary?

Anyway, those are the options, short of stopping and reversing the urban sprawl.

Harry Morant

Trying to minimize light pollution in Northern Virginia? That boat has sailed! Don't these people have better things to do? Geez.

Duke Nukem

Don't worry my friend. There are other ways to eliminate light pollution. It is coming, so be prepared. Maybe stock up on candles and matches. The left is coming for your rights (and lights).

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