A Brief History and Our Mission
Shortly after the inception of Dark Skies, Inc. of the Wet Mountain Valley on March 5, 1999, Smokey Jack, President, negotiated an agreement with the West Custer County Hospital District to use dark sky friendly lighting fixtures. She realized that awaking growth in the towns and the surrounding Wet Mountain Valley would soon get the attention of nationally operated chain and franchised businesses that typically follow the corporate building style that rarely specifies dark sky friendly lighting fixtures. But she also knew that the biggest area of resistance would be the mindset of the local population.
Thus began a nearly two decades long process to change the mindsets of these old western communities from one of “Don’t tell me what I can and can’t do.” to “How can we protect our beautiful Wet Mountain Valley’s rural charm from being lost to big-city problems like light pollution?” She and the founding members of Dark Skies decided to approach this process with education of the problem and of its solutions until the mindset had changed sufficiently to campaign for lighting ordinances. Our many successful projects in light pollution control, education, and awareness are samples of how the education process has and is still being conducted with year-round newspaper advertising, an art contest at the Custer County School District, the Dark Skies website, a publication included with the town/county building permit packets, presentations at local organizations, and star parties (usually with a lecture presentation where dark sky issues are included).
The effectiveness of this education effort is reflected in the Town of Westcliffe trustees’ decision to install a test LED street light without prompting from Dark Skies, the school district’s decision to change shielded parking lot lights to LED fixtures, and, on a much larger scale, with continuing public financial support of Dark Skies objectives without there being a large goal set for a specific project. Since 2015, we have received over $11,000 annually. Over 10% of the campaign’s contributors give to Dark Skies. Most contributions come from within Colorado, but we also have received contributions from seasonal residents from whom we have often heard that they plan on retiring here in the future and want the nightscape preserved for when they can enjoy it full-time. And from out-of-state visitors that found that their visit here inspired them to want to keep it a special place to which to return.
With the certification of Westcliffe and Silver Cliff as a Dark Sky Community in 2015, there is every reason to believe that our dark skies will become a source of civic pride and economic success for the future years to come. Sadly, Smokey did not live to see this possibility.