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OPINION: Big and dark skies

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On an August evening in 1997, I grabbed a pillow, pulled open my bedroom window and crawled onto the roof of my Midwest suburban home. A soft wind whispered fragments of family conversations from round the neighborhood. The tang of barbecue scented the air. Peering beyond the arching elm branches, I counted the stars above, all seven of them.

Four months later, my sister-in-law helped me drag a rollaway mattress through sixteen inches of snow through my parents’ Montana yard. Bundled in wool and down, we flopped onto the mattress to gaze at the night sky and would almost forget to breathe. Above us, the Milky Way, sharp and majestic and threaded with impenetrable mystery. In a matter of moments, we’d counted shooting stars and watched satellites crawl across the sky like determined, unblinking fireflies. Seeing Montana’s stars for the first time remained with me as an unforgettable awakening, as it does for all of us that experience it.

By 1999, I’d moved to a condominium complex in the meadow of Big Sky. One evening, while driving from Lone Mountain, I tried to find where I lived. It wasn’t hard—the place glittered like Disneyland. This observation was made at our next HOA meeting. The idea that, for most of the residents, being able to view the stars was a primary benefit of living in Big Sky resulted in the removal of several security lights behind the complex. The property managers replaced all the 100-watt bulbs on porches and garages with 50s, and still found residents wanted less wattage.

The Sustainability Committee of the Rotary Club of Big Sky is seeking to reduce light pollution in Big Sky to quit losing the dark. The BSOA has been Dark Sky compliant for years now.

“They’re very strict”, said Rotarian Grant Hilton.

We are hoping to bring the benefits of Dark Skies to all of Big Sky.

As it happens, there’s a source for that: The International Dark Sky Association (IDA) has been fighting light pollution, needless energy consumption and the ill effects of nightglow (generated by artificial light) on wildlife and humans since 1988. Their well organized website,, describes the adverse effects of unnecessary artificial lighting on wildlife and humans, how to reduce energy consumption by selecting appropriate lighting solutions and highlights resources available to interested parties.

The concepts are simple and implementation is a matter of thoughtful choices, not increased cost. For example; light what you need, when you need it; no brighter than necessary; fully shielded to point downward, among others.

The IDA also designates regions of the world, from city parks to parts of states, as places of distinction in their accomplishment of preserving the night sky. Locals, visitors, wildlife and energy bills in Big Sky could all benefit from implementing Dark Sky practices and undoubtedly businesses promoting visitors could use the addition of the IDA designation. Why not go for it?

The Outlaw Partners is a creative marketing, media and events company based in Big Sky, Montana.

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