The economy of a black sky

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People gather in the glow of red light around telescopes to take advantage of the dark skies available in Cedarville, Calif., Saturday, August 19, 2022. The green light is a laser used to signal celestial objects. The string of lights on the right side of the image represents SpaceX’s Star Link satellites and serves as an example of light pollution. – photo: Richard Bednarski

Nestled in the far northeast of California is the small community of Cedarville. One of the few communities in Surprise Valley, which stretches into Nevada, is one of the darkest areas in the lower 48 states. In fact, on a moonless night, you might have trouble discerning the constellations because of the large number of stars.

Downtown Cedarville below the Warner Mountains on Saturday August 19, 2022. – image: Richard Bednarski

“It is estimated that around 80% of the world’s population lives under skylight,” said Jen Rovenpera. She is an archaeologist for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). She has been involved in preserving the night sky of this remote region for more than six years. Sky glow means so much light pollution that people can’t see stars and planets.

The Milky Way above some dark sky viewers at the Dark Sky Festival in Cedarville, California on August 19, 2022. – image: Richard Bednarski

“But here, because we’re so rural, we have one of the best views of the night sky in the world and we stay up late tonight and look up at the star.”

Since 2019, Rovenpera and Friends of Nevada Wilderness, a non-profit organization based in Reno, have organized a Dark Sky Festival. The reasoning is the nearby Massacre Rim Dark Sky Sanctuary. An area of ​​approximately 100,000 acres is home to many things worth preserving, from the rugged geography of the volcanic plateau to the incredibly dark night sky.

People gathered at the Dark Sky Festival science fair in Cedarville CA on Saturday August 19, 2022 – image: Richard Bednarski

The area is public land classified as a wilderness study area, meaning it has the qualities of a wilderness area and is under consideration to become an officially designated wilderness. Through an act of Congress, a Wilderness Study Area can become a Wilderness, enjoying permanent protection from human development. A boon to the local environment and the night sky.

With so many people unable to see the night sky, our connection to the universe and the natural world can weaken. The International Dark Sky Association began working to preserve the night sky in 1988. Since then, communities around the world have worked to establish more than 1,000 dark sky zones. Measures are in place to protect the quality of the night sky.

“The easiest thing is to only use the light where you need it,” Rovenpera said. She pointed out that this is one of the easiest things to do to reduce light pollution. “Use timers or motion sensors for lights instead of just having floodlights on all night.”

Another way for communities living near dark skies to shield the night sky is to shield lights, so that the light points downwards rather than upwards. “Even closing the curtains at night reduces the amount of light pollution,” Rovenpera said. She added that many of these measures also save energy, which saves money.

“When we work to preserve dark skies, we are also working to preserve the integrity of the land beneath those skies,” said Nora Ritcher, grants and operations manager at Friends of Nevada Wilderness. Where there are no lights there is often very little development, and all of this goes hand in hand with Wilderness. Dark skies enrich the functionality of ecosystems, habitats and ecological communities (including humans) that have evolved to depend on a natural day-night cycle.

The circadian rhythm is a cycle that helps animals and humans maintain energy levels, get well-deserved rest, and keep us generally healthy. Many animals also depend on this cycle. If you’ve ever tried sleeping with bright lights in your bedroom at night, you know that light pollution impacts your sleep cycle.

Wildlife, such as bobcats, cougars and even moths, rely on darkness to survive. The sphinx moth is one of the few nocturnal pollinators that live in the Massacre Rim Dark Sanctuary. Other animals that rely on darkness include owls and greater sage grouse, a species about to be listed on the Endangered Species Act.

One of the main reasons for the annual Dark Sky Festival is to bring astrotourism to the area, which can provide an economic boost to the small community of Cedarville. A small ranching community at the foot of the Warner Mountains is where people go to get away. He’s considered one of the last holdouts in the west, something local business owner Janet Irene is adamant about upholding.

A portrait of Janet Irene, owner of Country Hearth and longtime resident of Cedarville, California, created August 19, 2022. – image: Richard Bednarski

“The most exciting thing for me was realizing that not everyone knows what to see,” explained Janet Irene. She has lived in the valley for over 50 years and has been running the Country Hearth for almost 40 years. Its restaurant is where the community gathers for coffee and, in a typically rural way, is often the place to catch up on new community happenings.

“I think it’s good to see people open their eyes to what’s available and what’s really up there,” Irene said. She has been part of the Black Sky Festival since it started. In 2019, its rose garden hosted a handful of telescopes. Since then, she has seen a positive impact on the community.

This year, his garden hosted a night sky painting class and a science fair where the BLM had more than a dozen night sky posters and other nocturnal activities.

The Country Hearth in Cedarville, California is a gathering place for many locals and home to one of the best maple bars in the west, pictured on Saturday August 19, 2022. – image: Richard Bednarski

The Black Sky Party has had to deal with the pandemic and the smoke from the wildfires. Although still in its infancy, it seems to be making progress as an annual event. “It was the second year that I started to realize that it had a huge impact on our valley,” said Irene. She thinks this year attracted at least twice as many people as previous years. During the science fair, his staff struggled to keep up with the influx of people looking for a cup of coffee, some of his famous donuts or a hearty plate of cookies and gravy.

“It was good to have people come and just [hear] little comments they make,” Irene said. She remembers a local girl looking through a telescope for the first time and the wonder in her eyes at an event the year before.

“She had seen a science book in my gift shop on the solar system, and she came to ask if she could buy it. And I said, you can have it,” Irene explained. She told of a family from Alturas, who are just across the mountains to the west, having never been to Cedarville or understood how dark the night sky is in the area.

The interior of Country Hearth is unique, inviting and warm, as photographed on Saturday August 19, 2022. – image: Richard Bednarski

“I just want to say how much I appreciate the government…the role they play and making it work because we could never do it alone,” Irene said. “People will be calling me for months to tell me what their experiences have been here.”

“We’ve hosted events at Country Hearth for the past five years, and I’ve never heard people rave about the food, and don’t even get me started with the maple bars,” Richter explained. . She said the Sunrise Motel and the Surprise Valley Hot Spring, two of three places to stay in the valley, were full during the event.

Cups wait to be filled with coffee at Country Hearth in Cedarville, California on Saturday, August 19, 2022 – Image: Richard Bednarski

Rovenpera has lived in the valley for over ten years. It has seen an increase in dark sky tourism, especially since designation. She encourages people to visit the area and experience the darkness, but be prepared to travel to rugged desert country.

“The wilderness study area is quite rugged,” Rovenpera explained. She suggested anyone traveling in the area have more water than they think they need and a full-size spare tire. She also said many roads are inaccessible without high clearance or four-wheel drive. “Just by staying in Surprise Valley, this community, they have great opportunities in the valley for nighttime viewing here.”

The dark sky is still above us. The more light we produce, the more we reduce our ability to see the Milky Way or even Andromeda, the galaxy closest to us, visible to the naked eye. The Massacre Rim Dark Sky Sanctuary is so dark the Milky Way can cast a shadow on a moonless night. The amount of stars becomes almost overwhelming.

During a meteor shower, like the Perseids, one of the best shows of the year, there could be over 100 shooting stars per hour. They will all be visible under the immense sky of this rural area.

For Bre Guy, Cedarville’s night sky is one of the reasons she chose to spend her summer working in the valley. “I love looking at the stars, so it was perfect to be able to come here,” she said.

She’s from Missoula, Montana, a place with dark skies but more light pollution. After the Dark Sky Festival, she said that she now knows about the Rim Dark Sky Massacre Sanctuary and the International Dark Sky Association.

“It’s such an incredible resource, so just try to preserve the night sky because it’s important to us, it’s important to the planet,” Rovenpera said.


Born and raised in Quincy, Calif., Richard received a BA in Anthropology and Photography, in addition to a Masters in Journalism from the University of Nevada at Reno, across the Sierra Nevada, where he is currently. based. His lyrics and photos have appeared in national and regional publications such as USA Today Reno Gazette-Journal, The Progressive, and Sierra Nevada Ally. When he’s not creating important stories, Richard travels and camps with his wife and two daughters, tends a garden, bakes bread and plays the banjo.


Founded in 2020, Sierra Nevada Ally is a self-sustaining, paywall-free 501c3 nonprofit publication, member of the non-profit Institute for News, providing unique and differentiated reporting, factual news and explanatory journalism on the environment, conservation and public policy, while giving voice to writers, filmmakers, visual artists and performers. We count on the generosity of our readers and aligned partners.
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