Valles Caldera National Preserve Partners With Community In Lighting Retrofit Project To Protect Night Skies

A before and after example of retrofitted lighting at the Village of Jemez Springs. A two pronged floodlight was replaced by a single fully shielded black light fixture pointing downward. Photo by Roger Sweet

The before and after photos of the exterior of Hidden Valley Sporting Goods, showing two out of four replaced light fixtures. On the left showing the light coming directly from a light bulb, on the right showing the light clearly pointing downward. Photo by Nanci Lambert

NPS News:

JEMEZ SPRINGS — Valles Caldera National Preserve, in collaboration with its friends group, Los Amigos de Valles Caldera, announced the completion of a community lighting retrofit project with the Village of Jemez Springs and Hidden Valley Sporting Goods in the community of La Cueva.

In total, 17 light fixtures were replaced with dark sky compliant light fixtures, and two other non-compliant fixtures were permanently removed.

Los Amigos de Valles Caldera provided funding for the new fully shielded fixtures along with warm, amber colored LED light bulbs that will save on energy costs and reduce negative effects on wildlife at night.

At the preserve, the National Park Service has converted 72 percent of exterior building lights to dark sky compliant fixtures and color temperatures and plans to reach 100 percent in the coming years.

The preserve offers some of the darkest skies in the state with spectacular opportunities for viewing the Milky Way, constellations and meteor showers.

Dark skies also are important from a natural and biological standpoint as many animals can be adversely affected by artificial light that interrupts natural cycles. However, the greatest threat to these quality night skies is skyglow and light pollution from surrounding communities.

“Dark night skies have inspired countless humans to dream, invent and explore. It is my hope that this community partnership project will inspire others to protect our night skies as well,” Superintendent Jorge Silva-Bañuelos said.

“Los Amigos de Valles Caldera is pleased to be a partner in the preserve’s effort to protect our local night skies by participating in this retrofit project and we fully support the preserve’s effort to receive certification as an International Dark Sky Park,” said Peggy Gautier, Board Chair of Los Amigos de Valles Caldera. 

While in-person dark sky events are on hold due to the pandemic, the preserve has partnered with the Pajarito Environmental Education Center (PEEC) in Los Alamos to offer virtual astronomy activities. More information can be found on the PEEC website here. Visitors also can enjoy the preserve’s dark skies all night long from pullouts along N.M. 4.

To further highlight this important resource in the Jemez Mountains, Valles Caldera also is seeking certification as an International Dark Sky Park from the International Dark-Sky Association. The certification promotes public education and astronomy-based recreation while improving energy efficiency and reduced operational costs through outdoor lighting upgrades, which in turn creates economic opportunities for neighboring communities through astronomy-based tourism. Support for this certification comes from local organizations and communities such as the Pajarito Astronomers, PEEC, Los Amigos de Valles Caldera, Los Alamos County and Village of Jemez Springs.

The before and after of a light fixture at the Valle Grande Entrance Station within Valles Caldera National Preserve. The ‘before’ photo shows a golden lantern and the ‘after’ a black light fixture fully shielding the light bulb within and directing light toward the ground. Photo by Jonathan Allbach