By Chuck Woodbury
One of my greatest joys as an RVer has always been stepping outside my motorhome on a moonless night and peering high into the heavens. The sky would often be ablaze with a million pinpoints of light including the Milky Way, which lived up to its billing – a milky “cloud” stretching from the horizon to high above. Oh, it is so incredibly magnificent!
The National Park Service says that such star-gazing is one of the fastest growing visitor activities in its parks.
“Night sky viewing is incredibly popular, and America’s national parks offer some of the best views of night skies,” says Karen Trevino, the NPS’ chief steward of natural sounds and night skies. “Staring at the night sky with the Milky Way streaking overhead is a quintessential experience for many national park visitors. Even national parks near urban centers often serve as night sky sanctuaries for those who live in our most populated cities.”
Scientists say that cloudy skies over cities at night are now up to 1,000 times brighter than two centuries ago – and the sky glow spills out way beyond city limits including campgrounds miles around.
Just recently, the park service teamed with the Illuminating Engineering Society (IES) to develop night sky-friendly lighting to improve outdoor lighting in national parks without affecting visitors’ ability to view the stars and Milky Way.
The partnership pleases me greatly. I can recall many nights when a bright light over a comfort station washed out most of the stars, with not even a hint of the Milky Way.
WHAT RUBS ME WRONG
And then you have the RV industry which is hell-bent on illuminating its trailers and motorhomes with outdoor lighting that, with the push of a button, can wash out the heavens above. It’s worse in RV parks and public campgrounds with electric hookups. Remember the movie “Field of Dreams” with Kevin Costner, about the ballpark he built in a cornfield. “If you build it, they will come,” meaning the crowds. The RVers’ equivalent of this regarding outdoor lighting is “If they install it, I will use it.” Which further translates into “If the manufacturer installs outdoor lighting on my RV and I don’t have to pay extra for electricity, then I will use it.”
RV porch lights have been around for years, but now thanks to LED technology, lights are strung along awnings and even embedded in the body of the RV – in front, in back, beneath. And if that isn’t enough, some RVers purchase additional lighting to string along the ground to further light up their campsite – and those around them. Sometimes the lights change colors or even blink. If you’re the neighbor of such a light freak, it can feel like taking a trip back in time to the era of Mom-and-Pop motels when colored lights flashed outside your window all night long.
So, thank you National Park Service for trying to keep our National Parks dark for those of us who love dark skies and star-watching. If you are interested in learning more about this subject, check out the International Dark-Sky Association.