Darkness is worth protecting in the upper Ogden Valley

Featured Image by: BENJAMIN ZACK/Standard-Examiner “Stars shine over the Northern Wasatch Mountains above North Fork Park in Eden. The park was designated as an International Dark Sky Park in 2015. Such a designation is rare for a location so close to an urban area. The glow from the lights of Ogden can be seen pouring over the ridge.”
Originally published on the Standard-Examiner website

Weber County commissioners approved a lighting ordinance for the upper Ogden Valley in 2000. Fifteen years later, North Fork Park received accreditation as a Dark Sky Park.

One depended on the other.

When they approved a new lighting ordinance Tuesday, commissioners acted to protect North Fork’s skies.

  • RELATED: “Weber County Commissioners take steps to safeguard upper valley’s dark skies”

Studies project 20,000 new homes in the valley over the next 20 years, and growth brings light pollution. Commissioners voted 2-1 to require fully shielded, downward-directed outdoor lighting for new or remodeled homes.

The ordinance also calls for all commercial structures to meet the new lighting requirement, with existing buildings given 10 years to comply.

Commissioner Kerry Gibson opposed the measure, describing it as an attack on private property rights. Gibson preferred to create incentives for voluntary compliance.

“When we tell someone what type of lighting fixture they’re going to put on their home … what is the next step?” Gibson asked.

By that reasoning, any building code is an affront to personal liberty.

Fire suppression systems in commercial buildings? Only if you can find them mentioned in the U.S. Constitution.

Exposed wiring? Asbestos insulation? This is America, home of the brave and land of the free.

Commissioners James Ebert and Jim Harvey voted in favor of the ordinance. Without it, nothing could compel homeowners and businesses to install controlled lighting, allowing light pollution to threaten North Fork Park.

If that happens, we lose a resource almost impossible to regain — darkness.

  • RELATED: “Saving the night: The environmental case for dark sky”

Parks earn accreditation through the International Dark-Sky Association. North Fork became the world’s first Bronze-tier Dark Sky Park, meaning that although light intrudes on the sky, “aspects of the natural sky are still visible” and nighttime ecosystems remain intact.

The darkness at North Fork is breathtaking, attracting tourists and encouraging young scientists like Zach Thomas, president of the astronomy club at Weber High School.

Thomas founded the Weber High Dark Sky Preservation Alliance and organizes star parties at North Fork.

“I think when our skies are dark, more people are going to come up and it’s going to help businesses,” Thomas told commissioners at their Tuesday hearing.

He’s right. Approving the new Ogden Valley lighting ordinance encourages a strong local economy. But even more important, it protects a vanishing part of Utah’s heritage.

The darkness is worth defending.

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