Buffalo River's Natural Night Skies: A Window On The UniverseYou may have recently noticed some changes to our restroom and facility lighting at Buffalo National River. The park is in the process of applying for status as an International Dark Sky Park (IDSP) by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA). To obtain this status it is necessary for the park to adopt responsible outdoor lighting practices that will protect the park's naturally dark skies and serve as a teaching example for our local communities and visitors on how and why night skies can be protected as a valuable natural resource.
Parks can be more than just places to take a hike or pitch a tent. They can be places to renew your spirit and find solitude, through communing with nature. The park's forests and free-flowing waters provide that by day, but its natural unpolluted skies can do that by night as well. The night sky has been drastically impacted by man in recent decades with natural nighttime skies becoming as endangered as wilderness and free-flowing streams. However, the wonderful thing is that we can easily reverse this with responsible use of artificial light!
We want Buffalo National River to be a place where you, your friends, and your family can come to relax and renew. A place of wilderness, just outside the reaches of our modern society, during the day and night. So protecting our small piece of the natural sky is something that the park is striving to do. By bringing attention to the parks increasingly rare natural night sky resource, and through new programming and educational activities focused on that resource, the park hopes to extract a whole new value for our patrons and the public in general.
There are 18 other National Park Service sites with IDSP designation, we hope that Buffalo National River will be the first park in Arkansas to achieve this status! Visit the National Park Service's Night Skies website to learn more about the criticalness of protecting our night skies.
Effects of Light Pollution
Light pollution wastes money and energy and negatively impacts natural ecosystems and even human health. The "diurnal cycle" of night and day is hardwired into the biological clocks of every living thing on the surface of the planet. Our increased light footprint affects things that you may not have ever realized so our use of artificial light should be strategic and mindful.
Did you know that female sea turtles are deterred from nesting in artifically lit areas? Even more troubling is the fact that when baby sea turtles hatch on the beach they look for the glow of light over the ocean to help them find their way back to the water. Artificial lights on the shore can disorient them, leading the baby sea turtles to become stranded on land.
For an example that impacts wildlife at the river you need to look no further than the friendly firefly. They usher in summertime evenings and provide us with simple outdoor entertainment, but artificial light has been shown to disrupt their ability to reproduce. Male fireflies use species-specific flashing patterns to attrach females. The females flash back in response to the males. Scientists have conducted studies in which they exposed fireflies to artificial light and found that the females did not flash back as often, leading to less mating.
Artificial light at night even impacts when plants bloom and go dormant, where bats will travel, whether zooplankton will rise in a water column to feed off of phytoplankton, interferes with bird migration, and amphibian mating.
Lighting at night has impacts to human health too. It has been found that articial light can be disruptive to our circadian rhythm, our internal clock that keeps us on a healthy sleep schedule. As a part of the circadian rhythm our bodies produce melatonin. Melatonin is vital to the health of our immune and reproductive systems. Additionally, melatonin aids in the regulation of blood pressure. Decreased melatonin production is an unfavorable side effect of nighttime lights that may increase the risk of breast and prostate cancer, diabetes, obesity, and depression according to the American Medical Association.
What Can You DoThere is plenty that you can do at your house or in your work place to improve night sky conditions and limit unnecessary exposure of yourself and others to artificial light at night. Starting indoors, limit your nighttime exposure to so called "blue light," as it is the blue end of the white light spectrum that is implicated in the hormonal response. Install apps on your screened devices that will remove blue light after the sun sets. Install amber night-lights in your bedroom and bathroom if needed for nighttime navigation and use dimmable warm colors in your home fixtures.
Outside, follow these four simple rules. Light only when needed, where needed, using the minimum amount needed, using the warmest color practical. When needed means turning lights off when not needed. Consider installing motion sensors or light timers specific to your needs. Where needed means installing shielded fixtures that direct light downward to the specific area needing illumination. Light that goes horizontally creates blinding glare, trespasses on the property of others, and creates skyglow. While warm colors means using lights with little or no blue in their spectrum. Amber colored bulbs are ideal and also help preserve your night vision.
Events & ProgramsThis year Buffalo National River looks forward to hosting three star parties at Tyler Bend in cooperation with the Central Arkansas Astronomical Society, North Central Arkanas Astronomical Society, and the Sugar Creek Astronomical Society. These two volunteer groups provide outstanding subject-matter experts and telescopes for the public to use.
Additionally, there will be a variety of ranger-led night sky programs offered at Buffalo Point this summer. Check the park's calendar of events for upcoming programs or call the Buffalo Point Ranger Station at 870-449-4311 for more information.
Lighting Changes in the ParkAll of our interior restroom lights are being converted to motion sensor activation. We have also dimmed the lights and installed bulbs with an amber hue. This amber colored bulb will help preserve your night vision and pollute much less than a traditional LED bulb. We are also installing shields on the larger light fixtures that are attached to utility poles or disabling them altogether when deemed possible. Finally, we have enacted a light curfew at the Tyler Bend Pavilion in preparation for that specific area to become a designated self-guiding location for visitors to come and enjoy a large piece of the night sky.
The International Dark-Sky AssociationThe International Dark-Sky Park Association (IDA) was founded in 1988. The IDA is a world leader and advocate for our night skies. They strive to educate the public on responsible lighting. There are now over 50 IDA Dark Sky Parks (IDSP) world-wide. According to the IDA these are places that have proven that they possess an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and a nocturnal environment that is specifically protected for its scientific, natural, educational, cultural heritage, and/or public enjoyment. Visit the IDA for more information and to learn about the IDSP sites.
The Arkansas Chapter of the IDA has been working closely with the park in developing our lighting program and IDA application. Please visit the Arkansas Natural Sky Association website to learn more.
Last updated: December 10, 2018