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FairfaxSupervisors seek 'dark-sky' designation for Observatory Park

Supervisors seek ‘dark-sky’ designation for Observatory Park

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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.

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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.

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